Researchers from The Australian National University just found a whole bunch of ancient cave paintings on a tiny 81 square kilometre Indonesian Island, previously unexplored by archaeologists.
28 2,500 year old rock art sites have been found on the island of Kisar, north of Timor-Leste.
Lead archaeologist, Distinguished Professor Sue O’Connor from the School of Culture, History and Language, said the paintings help tell the story of the region’s history of trade and culture.
“These Indonesian islands were the heart of the spice trade going back for thousands of years,” Professor O’Connor said. “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.”
Professor O’Connor said the discovery pointed to a stronger shared history with the neighbouring island of Timor than had previously been known.
“The Kisar paintings include images which are remarkably similar to those in the east end of Timor-Leste,” she said.
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 centimetres.
“Despite their size, however, they are remarkably dynamic.”
Professor O’Connor said the relationship between the two islands likely extends back to the Neolithic period 3,500 years ago, which saw an influx of Austronesian settlers who introduced domestic animals, such as the dog, and perhaps cereal crops.
However, the close parallels between some of the painted figures and images cast on metal drums that began to be produced in northern Vietnam and southwest China about 2,500 years ago and traded throughout the region, indicate a more recent date for some of the paintings.
“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” she said.
The research was funded through the Australian Research Council’s Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship and done in partnership with the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta.