Most of us believe that it was not until the emergence of ‘modern man’ some 10,000 years ago, that our ancestors developed an affinity for art and decoration. But a recent find in of all places, Indonesia is proving that not to be the case. Prehistoric ornaments and jewelry as well as evidence of the earliest known cave art have been unveiled on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and they are changing the way scientists think about our ancestors.
The researchers believe the find may show that ‘ice age’ humans weren’t as culturally underdeveloped as scientists thought they were. The objects in question, were found by archaeologists consisted of disc-shaped beads made from the teeth of a tusked pig native to the island and pendants made from bone were found at the site. In addition, a trove of tools used to produce cave art was also uncovered at the site.
The researchers say the items date from between 30,000 to 22,000 years ago. But there have been examples of Cave Art found on the island in 2014 that dates from at least 40,000 years ago and it is believed to be the world’s oldest. That would make them at least 15,000 years older than the famous cave paintings in France.
The team of Indonesian and Australian researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The group says these early examples of art and jewelry imply that the spiritual beliefs of modern humans may have transformed as they encountered new forms of animal life on their journey from Asia to Australia.
The team says as humans traveled from Asia to Australia through the Indonesian Islands, they were forced to rethink their beliefs due to encounter with new types of animals and plants.
“[E]arly inhabitants of Sulawesi fashioned ornaments from body parts of endemic animals, suggesting modern humans integrated exotic faunas and other novel resources into their symbolic world as they colonized the bio geographically unique regions southeast of continental Eurasia,” the study states.
They believe the early travelers may have carried these beliefs with them as they ventured to Australia, rather than forming them after they reached the continent.
“Elements of the complex human-animal spiritual relationships that define Aboriginal cultures may actually pre-date the initial colonization of Australia,” the team argues in a statement.
It has been the long-held theory that the cultural sophistication of humans declined as they spread into southeast Asia, But the team says their discovery challenges this position.
“Some have argued that [ice age] Pleistocene human culture declined in sophistication as Homo sapiens ventured beyond India into the Southeast Asian tropics,” Associate Professor Adam Brumm, who led the dig, says. “However, the onset of new research programs in Indonesia is steadily dismantling this view.”