Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Griffith University, and his colleagues have published new findings that explain as such in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. On Tuesday, Brumm and research fellow Michelle Langley neatly summarized their groundbreaking work in article published in the Guardian, saying, “Our new findings challenge the long-held view that hunter-gatherer communities in the Pleistocene (“ice age”) of south-east Asia were culturally impoverished. They also imply that the spiritual lives of humans transformed as they encountered previously unknown species on the journey from Asia to Australia.”
Brumm explains that humans settled first in Australia by way of Indonesian Wallacea by boat over 50,000 years ago. However, until this week’s discovery in a cave in Sulawesi, scientists have long believed that ancient art and culture declined as it spread from Africa to Europe and on to Southeast Asia. However, in 2014 archaeologists declared paintings depicting animals and hand prints, dated between 30,000 and 40,000 years old and found in a Sulawesi cave, to be some of the oldest ever discovered. The artworks have since been compared in both age and content to similar paintings found in caves in France and Spain—widely believed to be the seat of modern culture.
Now, Brumm’s team provides further evidence to suggest that art and culture may well have developed in Africa before it ever did in Europe, and that it evolved as people traveled to new continents. The Indonesian islands of Wallacea, for instance, contain many unique species of mammals. At Sulawesi, Brumm and his colleagues have discovered 42,000-shells that worn as jewelry, disc-shaped beads made from the teeth of a babirusa pig, and pendants fashioned from the finger bones of the possum-like creature known as the bear cuscus. Other items discovered in the cave include stone tools carved with crosses, plant leaf designs and geometric patterns.
“It is very unusual to uncover buried evidence for symbolic activity in the same places where ice age rock art is found,” write Blum and Langley. “Prior to this research, it also remained uncertain whether or not the Sulawesi cave artists adorned themselves with ornaments, or even if their art extended beyond rock painting.”