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May/June 2015


section: the calcite layer above the paint, the very thin reddish

paint stratum and the limestone beneath it. We gaze in admira-

tion at the meticulous sample that has made this a “ground

zero” where a revolution in theory has been set in motion. And

the hand isn’t all: A sample taken from the babirusa image here

dated to 35,400 years old, which makes it one of the oldest in

the world of an animal.

Our third day we start north and pick our way for 30 minutes

through rice field pathways to Leang Lasitae. Above the front of

the cave are two fish, crossed at right angles, and inside are numer-

ous excellent fish images. Pampang explains that the predominantly

marine imagery reflects what was likely the major resource: the

ocean, which today lies some two kilometers distant, but then may

have been closer. “These are of ocean species, whereas the Jing

Cave paintings showed freshwater fish,” he says . The shapes are so

accurate, he adds, that they can infer the species.

From here, we walk a short distance to Leang

Bulu Balang, which also faces toward the water.

Here, we see our first images of turtles. Two turtle

paintings sport cross-hatched shells, distinct heads,

tails and flippers. We’re told these turtles, too, are

endangered species.

Continuing the pace, Pampang promises some-

thing unique for our next cave. After one of the

wettest treks in, through flooded rice fields that

again mud-pack the boots, then a steep climb up the

limestone detritus, Leang Sakapao doesn’t disap-

point. Painted on a low ceiling, not much over a

meter in height, so we have to lie on our backs to

view it: a realistic image of a pair of mating babi-

rusa. Ramli lies back in the cave dust and points

out the details. “As we can see, there is a male pig-

deer and the other is the female.” He knows of no

other painting of mating babirusa. Indeed, such couplings are

extremely rare in the European caves, too.

Our final day brings us to Bulu Sipong cave after an hour

in highway traffic and a half-hour boat ride along an inland

waterway in a traditional, long, narrow fishing boat with a

single-cylinder motor, followed by our 20-minute climb-and-

crawl through the cave. There’s a new sight for us here, too, a

technique common to the western European images but rare

in Sulawesi: using natural rock features to emphasize subject

images in a sort of a bas-relief. We see the method used to

portray a centipede that is painted upon a naturally raised

rivulet of calcium carbonate, which is used as the body of the

creature. And, depicted both in profile and from above, a rare

image of a boat and, aboard it, two humans. One appears to

be spearing fish and the other poling or paddling the craft.

This centipede,


in Bulu Sipong, shows the artist’s use of natural rock features to emphasize aspects of the subject, a technique

common to the cave images in western Europe but rare in Sulawesi.


This faint image shows a pelican, with a curved neck, looking

at a fish.


A manta ray, painted in Bulu Sipong.