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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.