nass news 2020 mar Pleistocene SunburstPhoto Credit: Andrew Thompson

Archaeologists have found two miniature stone engravings in a cave on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. One plaquette appears to be a sunburst, the other an ibex like animal, the anoa. These pocket-sized carvings dating back between 14,000 and 26,000 years. Elsewhere in Sulawesi the oldest cave art dating to 44,000 years ago was recently discovered, dispelling the Euro-centric notion of Pleistocene art.

Examining the incisions cut into the ancient flowstone, the Sunburst hexegon outline was carved starting in the photo from upper left, with continuing connecting lines done clockwise. Then the 7 rays were added. Small traces of a red mineral (perhaps red ochre pigment) exist in some of the sunburst cuts, possibly indicating that the sun was enhanced in a beautiful red color. Before this discovery the oldest known depiction of the sun was from the Nebra sky disk found in Germany and fabricated of metal 3,600 years ago, rivaling Pharaoh Akenaten who built a whole city to the glory of the sun (Aten) 3,365 years ago. These are recent times compared to the sunburst.

The archaeology team was lead by Michelle C. Langley of the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, with associates at Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS), Jakarta, Balai Arkeologi Sulawesi Selatan and Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya in Makassar. They report in Nature Human Behaviour "... the discovery of two small stone ‘plaquettes’ incised with figurative imagery dating to 26–14 ka from Leang Bulu Bettue, Sulawesi. [The pocket-art was discovered in a cave and rockshelter complex of Leang Bulu Bettue (4° 59' 31.18" S, 119° 40' 5.53" E) situated at the foot of a limestone tower in the Maros-Pangkep karst area.] These new findings, together with the recent discovery of rock art dating to at least 40 ka in this same region, overturns the long-held belief that the first H. sapiens of Southeast Asia–Australasia did not create sophisticated art and further cements the importance of this behaviour for our species’ ability to overcome environmental and social challenges."

The artefacts reported here are currently curated at the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia. They will return to Indonesia at the conclusion of the project where they will be given accession numbers and be curated in Makassar by Balai Arkeologi Sulawesi Selatan.

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