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Indonesian Cave Art
CAS PhD student’s Nature publication reveals some of earliest human art

Thomas Sutikna, who is completing a PhD in SMAH’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is part of a team of Indonesian and Australian scientists who have dated some of the world’s earliest known cave art on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, challenging the commonly held view that Europeans were the first to produce rock art.

The paper, Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia, was published in the prestigious journal Nature on 8 October, 2014 and is co-authored by SMAH researchers Dr Anthony Dosseto and the late Prof. Mike Morwood.

The team dated 12 hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions at seven cave sites in the limestone ‘tower karst’ of southwest Sulawesi, with the earliest image (a hand stencil) being at least 40,000 years old.

Thomas Sutikna said the finding suggests that figurative art may have been part of the cultural repertoire of his ancient Indonesian ancestors – the first modern human populations to reach this region more than 40,000 years ago. 

 “Rock art is one of the first indicators of an abstract mind – the onset of being human as we know it,” Thomas Sutikna said.