In December 2017, Hamrullah, an archaeologist on an Indonesian government survey, was exploring a cave system in Sulawesi, a large island in central Indonesia. He noticed a tantalizing opening in the ceiling above him. A skilled spelunker, Hamrullah (who only uses one name, like many Indonesians) climbed through the gap into an uncharted chamber. There, he laid eyes on a painting that is upending our understanding of prehistoric humans.
The dramatic panel of art, dating back at least 43,900 years, is “the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world,” a group of scientists said in a paper published Wednesday in Nature, although additional research will be needed to confirm the age of every character in the painting.