Indonesian Island Gives Up Its Ancient Cave Paintings

Anthropomorphs gesturing to sun/drum. (Image: S. O'Connor.)
Anthropomorphs gesturing to sun/drum. (Image: S. O'Connor.)

On a tiny Indonesian island, a large amount of ancient cave paintings has been discovered. The island is called Kisar, which measures just 81 square kilometers, and was previously unexplored by archaeologists.

Now, a team of researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) have found a total of 28 rock art sites. The sites date back to at least 2,500 years ago; the island itself lies north of Timor-Leste.

Kisar, showing art sites discussed and other art sites identified. (Photographs: S. O'Connor)

Kisar, showing art sites discussed and other art sites identified. (Image: S. O’Connor)

Lead archaeologist and distinguished Professor Sue O’Connor, from the School of Culture, History and Language, believes the island is unusually rich in ancient cave paintings, saying the paintings help tell the story of the region’s history of trade and culture:

Dynamic human figures are depicted in partial twisted profile: (a) Jawalang 2; (b) Jawalang 4; (c and d) Ile Kere Kere, Timor-Leste. (Photographs: S. O'Connor.)

Dynamic human figures are depicted in partial twisted profile: (a) Jawalang 2; (b) Jawalang 4; (c and d) Ile Kere Kere, Timor-Leste. (Image: S. O’Connor)

The discovery indicates that there was a much larger shared history with the neighboring island of Timor than previously thought, Professor O’Connor explains:

a) composition with two male anthropomorphs in frontal position; (b) anthropomorphs shown with animals. (Photographs: S. O'Connor.)

(a) Composition with two male anthropomorphs in frontal position; (b) anthropomorphs shown with animals. (Image: S. O’Connor)

The researchers believe there is a strong indication that the two islands had a relationship that most likely extended back to the Neolithic period 3,500 years ago. This was a time when there was an influx of Austronesian settlers who introduced domestic animals, and may have even introduced cereal crops.

Sun motifs from Jawalang 4 (a, b, c, d) and Jawalang 6 (e, f & g). (Photographs: S. O'Connor.)

Sun motifs from Jawalang 4 (a, b, c, d) and Jawalang 6 (e, f & g). (Image: photographs S. O’Connor)

Lene Cece boats. (Photograph: S. O'Connor)

Lene Cece boats. (Image: photograph S. O’Connor)

However, some of the paintings indicate a more recent date. Some of the painted figures and images cast on metal drums; these began to be produced in northern Vietnam and southwest China around 2,500 years ago, and were traded throughout the region. Professor O’Connor said:

 (a & b) Boats from HSE; (c) Jawalang 6, small boat with anthropomorph. (Photograph: S. O'Connor)

(a & b) Boats from HSE; (c) Jawalang 6, small boat with anthropomorph. (Image: S. O’Connor)

A paper describing rock paintings at five of the discovered sites has been published in the Cambridge Journal of Archaeology.

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