Deep within Leang Tedongnge, a cave tucked away on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, archaeologists discovered this mulberry-hued painting of a warty pig and two hand silhouettes potentially belonging to the artist, which is now believed to be the oldest figurative work in the world. A study published in Science Advances this week says the impeccably preserved rendering is at least 45,500 years old, which predates previously discovered depictions of mythical creatures in the region. Those prior findings date back about 43,900 years.
Questions remain about the exact age of the work and who made it. Archaeologists from Griffith University, who helmed the mission, utilized uranium-series dating to determine how old the speleothem, or mineral deposits, of the cave is rather than the actual painting. There’s also debate about whether modern humans are responsible for the renderings, a question that’s complicated by the fact that the only skeletal remains that date back at least 45,500 years in Sulawesi belong to early hominins.
Dr. Adam Brumm, who co-authored the study, told The New York Times that researchers expect to discover similar artworks in the region, although the cave paintings are deteriorating at a rapid rate and could fade before they’re ever uncovered. “It is very worrying, and given the current situation the end result is likely to be the eventual destruction of this ice age Indonesian art, perhaps even within our lifetime,” Brumm said.
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'Sistine Chapel of the Ancients': A Remote Area of the Amazon Boasts Tens of Thousands of Ice-Age Paintings
New photographs reveal an enormous collection of prehistoric art that spreads across a nearly eight-mile-long cliff within the Amazon rainforest. Now dubbed as the “Sistine Chapel of the ancients,” tens of thousands of paintings depict humans and animals like sloths, horses, and the now-extinct palaeolama and mastodon. The latter creatures haven’t occupied regions in South America for almost 12,000 years, which has provided the British-Colombian archaeology team with a timeline for the artworks’ origins.
The collection has been known to Colombians and Indigenous peoples for decades and now will be presented as part of a Channel 4 documentary titled Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon, which airs this month. Archaeologist Ella Al-Shamahi, who is leading the television series, told The Guardian that the site, which is located in the Serranía de la Lindosa, required a two-hour drive from San José del Guaviare and an additional four-hour trek on foot to reach. “When we entered Farc territory, it was exactly as a few of us have been screaming about for a long time,” Al-Shamahi said. “Exploration is not over. Scientific discovery is not over but the big discoveries now are going to be found in places that are disputed or hostile,” noting that Colombia has been ravaged by civil war for decades.
Because of the breadth of the paintings—some are so high on the cliff that they only can be studied with drones—these researchers believe they will take generations to study. So far, though, they’ve found traces of ochre pigments, in addition to renderings of hallucinogenic plants and depictions of people who appear to be bungee jumping.
Update: This article originally framed the prehistoric art as a discovery, which was inaccurate considering Colombians and Indigenous peoples have known about and studied the area for decades. Patricio von Hildebrand, Thomas van der Hammen, and Carlos Castaño-Uribe have made significant contributions, in addition to researchers at the National University of Colombia and the University of Antioquia. We regret the error and erasure.
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Anchorage-based creative Paxson Woelber has captured stunning photographs that illuminate the massive ice formations he recently stumbled upon in an Alaskan cave. Part of Castner Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range, the expansive chamber is replete with glimmering crystals that jut down from the ceiling in some areas and coat the walls in others.
Woelber shares with Colossal that he visited during a deep freeze that saw temperatures below -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and discovered that the cave was formed by a stream that opened near the back. Geothermal heat warms the interior, causing the higher temperature of the inside to meet the drier, cold air from the outside near the cave’s mouth. This interaction causes moisture in the air to condense, creating the giant formations.
The artist described the experience as feeling as if he were exploring the inner portions of an asteroid. “Near the mouth of the cave, branching tree-like crystals hung down over a foot from the roof of the cave,” he says. “Toward the back, the crystals were smaller and more tightly-packed, like the crystals on the inside of a huge geode.” Head to Woelber’s Instagram to check out footage from his visit.
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A recent finding in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is changing our conceptions of the origins of visual art. Fifteen researchers this week published an article in Nature describing prehistoric cave art that they believe was created about 43,900 years ago. The art depicts multiple therianthropes—mythical creatures that have both human and animal characteristics like beaks and tails—hunting wild pigs and cattle with spears. Traditionally, therianthropes were employed for sharing folklore, religious myths, and spiritual beliefs. Clear renderings of the creatures are uncommon, the report says. The oldest depiction previously recorded is a carved figurine with the head of a cat that originated in Germany and dates back nearly 40,000 years. These Indonesian findings also predate the Lascaux cave paintings found in France by about 20,000 years. “This hunting scene is—to our knowledge—currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world,” the report said. (via Artnet)
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A Geological Landmark's Phosphorescent Glow Inspires the National Museum of Qatar's Cavernous Gift Shop
Patches of natural and artificial light highlight the curved layers of the National Museum of Qatar’s recently completed gift shop. The massive undulating walls were constructed from over 40,000 pieces of timber that tower high above visitors’ heads and imitate the shape and feeling of the Dahl Al Misfir or Cave of Light. The Qatar landmark is an underground formation that contains a wealth of gypsum deposits, which illuminate the cave with a phosphorescent glow and often form clusters of rose-shaped crystals known as “desert roses.”
Koichi Takada Architects wanted to connect visitors to the museum back to Qatari desert landscapes, while also creating a natural extension of the “Desert Rose” concept created for the museum by French architect Jean Nouvel. In addition to the museum shop, the architects also designed its restaurants, including the Desert Rose Cafe, Cafe 875, and Jiwan Restaurant. You can see more of the firm’s previous projects on their website and Instagram, and take a look at the museum’s exterior here. (via designboom)
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Beijing-based photographer Ryan Deboodt (previously) recently returned from a trip to Laos where he spent two days exploring Tham Khoun Xe, one of the largest active river caves in the world. Stretching nearly 4.5 miles (7km) underground, the cave system is extraordinarily remote and Deboodt was permitted to photograph and film beyond where tourists are normally allowed to visit. The immensity of the subterranean space is staggering, with an average ceiling of almost 200 feet (60m) and width of 250 feet (76m) it’s hardly imaginable a space like this could exist underground.
Deboodt brought an arsenal of camera and video equipment as well as a drone to capture the expansive interiors of Tham Khoun Xe, much of which he edited into a short video included below. You can follow more of his cave photography from around the world on Facebook or Instagram, and read an interview about the endeavor on Smithsonian.
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