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.
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:
“Archeologically, no one has ever explored this small island before. These Indonesian islands were the heart of the spice trade going back for thousands of years.
“The paintings we found depict boats, dogs, horses, and people, often holding what look like shields. Other scenes show people playing drums, perhaps performing ceremonies.”
The discovery indicates that there was a much larger shared history with the neighboring island of Timor than previously thought, Professor O’Connor explains:
“The Kisar paintings include images which are remarkably similar to those in the east end of Timor-Leste.
“A distinctive feature of the art in both islands is the exceptionally small size of the human and animal figures, most being less than 10 centimeters.
“Despite their size, however, they are remarkably dynamic.”
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.
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:
“These paintings perhaps herald the introduction of a new symbolic system established about two thousand years ago, following on the exchange of prestige goods and the beginning of hierarchical societies.”
A paper describing rock paintings at five of the discovered sites has been published in the Cambridge Journal of Archaeology.
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