Here, using uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated with 12 human hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions from seven cave sites in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, we show that rock art traditions on this Indonesian island are at least compatible in age with the oldest European art. The earliest dated image from Maros, with a minimum age of In addition, a painting of a babirusa 'pig-deer' made at least Here, using uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated with 12 hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions from seven cave sites in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, we show that rock art traditions on this Indonesian island are at least compatible in age with the oldest European art Rivers draining the volcanic highlands to the east cut down into the basal limestone, forming clusters of plateau-like karst towers that rise abruptly from the surrounding alluvial plains Extensive networks of footcaves formed around the tower bases and now harbor abundant evidence of prehistoric human occupation Cemented breccia banks containing archaeological material occur on the rear walls of many caves and rockshelters14,15, and at least 90 rock art sites are recorded.
While multiple cave and shelter sites have been excavated since the s16, only two with Pleistocene sequences, Leang Burung 2 ref. The Pleistocene deposits from both sites yielded evidence of pigment use in the form of facetted haematite nodules13 and ochre-smeared stone tools The Maros-Pangkep rock art was first recorded in the s15 and has been extensively studied by Indonesian researchers, although few detailed reports are published.
On the basis of superimposition, two broad periods of prehistoric art production are defined The earliest of these is characterized by human hand stencils made by spraying wet pigment around hands pressed against rock surfaces and, less commonly, large naturalistic paintings of endemic Sulawesi land mammals, including the dwarfed bovid anoa Anoa sp.
These wild animal species are most commonly depicted in profile as irregularly infilled outlines The later rock art phase in the Maros-Pangkep karsts lacks images of this nature. It is instead typified by small depictions of zoomorphs including dogs and other domesticated species , anthropomorphs, and a wide range of geometric signs, most commonly drawn onto rock surfaces using black pigment possibly charcoal This art can plausibly be attributed to early Austronesian immigrants on the basis of stylistic elements19, and is thus a few thousand years old at most The red- and mulberry-coloured motifs of the earlier phase typically occur on high roofs, elevated parts of rock walls or other difficult-to-access areas in caves and shelters They are located both close to site entrances and within deep, dark chambers and passages.
In most cases the art is poorly preserved, surviving only as weathered patches of pigment on exfoliated rock surfaces. However, local custodians report that the loss of the art has accelerated in recent decades. To determine the age of the earliest rock art in the Maros karsts we undertook an extensive program of uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated with the motifs.
The sampled materials all comprise static coralloids that formed directly on top of clearly discernable motifs, offering the possibility to obtain minimum ages for the underlying rock art. In some cases, hand stencils and paintings were made over coralloids that then continued to grow, providing an opportunity to obtain both minimum and maximum ages for the art.
We collected a total of 19 coralloid samples associated with 14 individual motifs 12 hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions Figs. Four of the Bantimurung sites Gua Jing, Leang Barugayya 1 and 2, and Leang Timpuseng are situated in a large limestone outlier roughly 2 km in diameter and m high To provide an internal check of the microstratigraphic order of ages we took a minimum of three and up to six aliquots from every sample except for Samples Leang Jarie 1 and 2  , one from under the pigment layer, and two or more from above it, giving a total of 55 uranium- series age determinations Supplementary Information.
In addition, at Leang Jarie Fig. Dating results for these five sets of paired samples are internally consistent Supplementary Information , demonstrating the robustness of the ages for the associated motifs.
The oldest dated motif is a hand stencil from Leang Timpuseng, which has a minimum age of This motif is located on a 4-m- 4 high ceiling next to a large irregularly infilled painting of a female babirusa, which has a minimum age of At nearby Leang Barugayya 2, a large painting of an indeterminate animal probably a pig has a minimum age of The next oldest motif in our assemblage is another hand stencil at Leang Jarie, which dates to at least With the Leang Timpuseng hand stencil, and for many other motifs in our sample, subsamples taken from below the pigment layer were more than kyr in age Supplementary Information.
These early dates represent calcium carbonate deposits flowstone layers present on the rock face before the art was produced. At Gua Jing, we dated two distinct hand stencils, one of which yielded minimum and maximum ages of Thus, given that the Leang Timpuseng hand stencil has a minimum age of The discovery of rock art dating back at least 40 kyr ago on Sulawesi has important implications for our understanding of the time-depth of early symbolic traditions in the region, about which little is presently known.
The northern Australian rock art provinces of Arnhem Land25 and the Kimberley26 also display early art phases based on order of superimposition characterized by hand stencils and large irregularly infilled paintings of animals, including apparent images of extinct megafauna25,26, that are markedly similar in style to the Maros art. There are also implications for the debate about the origins of Palaeolithic rock art per se, which is invariably dominated by European data and for which there are two widely debated models11, The first of these is that rock art originated in Europe and developed gradually over thousands of years, beginning with abstract, nonfigurative imagery e.
The alternative model is that cave art first appeared in Europe in fully developed form, as implied by the great 5 antiquity of the elaborate animal paintings from Chauvet Cave in southern France Our dating results from Sulawesi suggest that figurative art was already part of the cultural repertoire of the first modern human populations to reach this region more than 40 kyr ago.
It is possible that rock art emerged independently at around the same time and at approximately both ends of the spatial distribution of early modern humans. An alternative scenario, however, is that cave painting was widely practiced by the first H. If so, we may anticipate future discoveries of depictions of human hands, figurative art, and other forms of image-making dating to the earliest period of the global dispersal of our species. The Mind in the Cave: Context and dating of Aurignacian vulvar representations from Abri Castanet, France.
Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art. A review of rock art dating in the Kimberley, Western Australia. Symbolic revolutions and the Australian archaeological record. From small holes to grand narratives: Thermoluminescence dating of a 50,year-old human occupation site in northern Australia. The human colonisation of Australia: U-series dating of Paleolithic art in 11 caves in Spain.
Limestone morphology in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Zeitschrift fur Geomorphologie, suppl Bd. The effects of sink action on archaeological deposits in caves: Rock-paintings and other prehistoric discoveries near Maros South West Celebes. Culture history of the Toalean of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nine new painted rock art sites from East Timor in the context of the Western Pacific region. Visions from the Past: How old are Australia's pictographs? A review of rock art dating.
Uranium series dating reveals a long sequence of rock art at Altamira Cave Santillana del Mar, Cantabria. The fieldwork was authorized by the director of the Makassar Heritage Department B. Raper, for additional project support. Field assistants included M. Andi Pampang and A. Technical laboratory assistance involved G.
Owers provided map data. Moore are thanked for critical feedback on the manuscript. A collected the samples and conducted the uranium-series dating with A. Each coralloid sample was sawn in situ so as to produce a continuous microstratigraphic profile extending from the outer surface of the coralloid through the pigment layer and into the underlying rock face. The only exception was Leang Jarie 1 and 2 , which were sawn in situ but not through the pigment layer.
All of the sampled coralloids comprised multiple layers of dense and nonporous calcite. The identification of a pigment layer overlaid by an extensive accumulation of calcite laminations within each coralloid except for Leang Jarie 1 and 2  unambiguously demonstrates that the sampled speleothems formed over the motifs see Figs. The pigment layer was visible across the entire length of the sample except for Leang Jarie 1 and 2 .
In total, we obtained 55 uranium-series age determinations an additional two failed to produce enough signal for age determination Table 1 and Supplementary Information. Uranium-series Geochemistry Mineralogical Society of America, The coral record of last interglacial sea levels and sea surface temperatures. U-Th dating of deep-sea corals.
The separate karst region of Bone is further east; c, Archaeological sites included in this study: Gua Jing and Leang Barugayya 1 and 2 are separate cave sites interconnected by a system of phreatic passages. Figure 2 Dated rock art from Leang Timpuseng. Although the animal figure is badly deteriorated and obscured by coralloids, we interpret it as a female babirusa.
A painted red line below the babirusa not clearly visible in a, but illustrated in b appears to represent the ground surface on which the animal is standing or walking. The rock art panel is located on the ceiling about 8 m from the cave entrance and 4 m above the current cave floor; c, d, Profiles of the coralloid speleothems showing the microexcavated subsamples bracketing the age of the paintings. We interpret the similar ages for the overlying aliquots as a result of fast growing speleothems.
Figure 3 Dated rock art from Leang Jarie. The hand stencils are part of a 4-m-long art panel located in a dark recess along the eastern wall of the cave, about 5 m from the entrance and 1. The Leang Jarie 1 sample is from above the pigment layer and so only provides a minimum age for the underlying hand stencils.
Table 1 Results of uranium-series disequilibrium dating showing the minimum age of each dated rock art motif all isotopic ratios are activity ratios; errors are at 2s.