Reading the oldest story humans told… on a cave wall in Indonesia.

Nature looks at a comic book from 44,000 years ago that tells the story of a successful hunt – a story that appears to be humanity’s oldest:

A cave-wall depiction of a pig and buffalo hunt is the world’s oldest recorded story, claim archaeologists who discovered the work on the Indonesian island Sulawesi. The scientists say the scene is more than 44,000 years old.

The 4.5-metre-long panel features reddish-brown forms that seem to depict human-like figures hunting local animal species. Previously, rock art found in European sites dated to around 14,000 to 21,000 years old were considered to be the world’s oldest clearly narrative artworks. The scientists working on the latest find say that the Indonesian art pre-dates these.

Many researchers assumed that rock art found later in Africa, Australia and Asia was younger than these European works; such artworks are notoriously difficult to date because they can be made with raw materials, such as charcoal, that can be much older than the paintings themselves. But scientists including [Griffith University archaeologist Adam] Brumm jolted the archaeological world when they reported, in 2014 and 2018, that caves in Sulawesi and Borneo held artworks, including animal paintings, that were older than 40,000 years — of similar age to and perhaps older than those created during the European Ice Age.

A team member named Hamrullah, who is a Sulawesi-based archaeologist and caver, had found the paintings after shimmying up a fig tree to reach a narrow passage at the roof of another cave.

The panel seems to depict wild pigs found on Sulawesi and a species of small-bodied buffalo, called an anoa. These appear alongside smaller figures that look human but also have animal traits such as tails and snouts. In one section, an anoa is flanked by several figures holding spears and possibly ropes.

The depiction of these animal–human figures, known in mythology as therianthropes, suggests that early humans in Sulawesi had the ability to conceive of things that do not exist in the natural world, say the researchers. “We don’t know what it means, but it seems to be about hunting and it seems to maybe have mythological or supernatural connotations,” says Brumm.