Day Two’s dawn brings a cultural diversion. Syarifuddin,
a Bugis local, invites us into his home to see his ceremonial
hand-prints made four years ago. He greets us with his wife,
Mirnawati, and son Mohammed Dirgah. Sure enough, although
faded, his handprints grace each of the home’s six vertical beams.
Now it’s back to caving. We plod along berms around more
rice fields, with the occasional foot sinking ankle-deep into
the mud, as we approach the karst. Pampang says this is a
low-water area not usually accessible in rainy season, so we’re
fortunate to get to Leang Jing (“Evil Cave”). It’s a rocky ascent
in squishy, wet boots, onto rickety bamboo ladders whose rungs
are twice as far apart as a more comfortable ladder.
But once we are inside the cool and dim interior, it becomes
clear the ordeal is worth it. We’re facing a veritable tapestry
of the ancient hunting and fishing life. We play our headlamps
and flashlights on everything from a pelican
eyeing a fish to a figure of a woman with a
spiky hairdo dragging a lassoed anoa—an
animal much like a miniature water buffalo,
also endemic to Indonesia. The anoa is rarely
seen today, and Pampang tells us it is now a
protected species. The pelican has a grace-
fully curved neck; the fish in its gaze sports a
perfectly formed tail and body. There’s more
than animals here: we spot one of the few
Indonesian examples of a foot stencil.
To us, the images appear remarkably well
preserved, but Ramli tells us when he first
saw them in 1980 there were many more, and
clearer, images. Increasing amounts of calcite
are obliterating many of the pictographs. He shows us where
Aubert’s team took a dating sample with a tiny diamond-bladed
saw: this one came in at 25,000 years old.
Nearby Leang Jarie (“Hand Cave”) was so named because
when first discovered, it was a cave with nearly all handprints
and hand stencils. But now, as with most of the other caves, the
majority are covered with recent calcite intrusions, and few are
clear. Ramli thinks one cause of the intrusions in all these caves
is increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which reacts
with the limestone to form new calcite deposits on the surfaces.
Next it’s Leang Timpuseng—the cave that perhaps among all
is the one we came so far to see: This is where the oldest hand
painting in the world was dated by Aubert. Ramli shows us the
stencil, and the tiny spot along the edge where the sample was
almost surgically removed. There are the precise layers in cross
Pulverizing ochre that remains common in the area,
demonstrates the first step in making
the pigment used for many of the drawings.
Left to right:
A turtle depicted with its cross-hatched shell, head, tail and flippers/legs in Leang Bulu Balang; a pair of fish appear to almost
swim in a small pool on the front wall of Leang Lasitae. “These are of ocean species, whereas the Jing cave paintings showed freshwater
fish,” notes Pampang. A small figurative painting, in Leang Jarie, shows a person.