Ancestors’ Masterpieces

Ancient art showing hand prints at the Cuevas de las Manos upon Río Pinturas, near the town of Perito Moreno in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina.

Inspired by ancient Banksy?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

From kids’ doodles to Grandma’s watercolors – our artwork is precious! Turns out, ancient people living on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi thought so too! Their artwork drawn on limestone rocks twenty thousand years ago is some of the world’s oldest! But recently, it’s been blistering and peeling off. Why?

Jillian Huntley from Griffith University of Australia and colleagues searched for the culprit. Using microscopes and X-rays, they observed the rock art more carefully.

And? They found geological salts growing on top of and behind the drawings! As temperature and moisture changes, the salts swell and shrink, thus breaking down the art. 

This effect has been amplified by climate change. Seasonal rains after consecutive hot and dry days cause the salts to shrink and swell more AGGRESSIVELY! 

The researchers believe that understanding these environmental conditions will help preserve the IRREPLACEABLE art from the human past.

Better take my kids’ drawings OFF the fridge – and put them IN it instead!

Reference: Huntley, J., Aubert, M., Oktaviana, A. A., Lebe, R., Hakim, B., Burhan, B., Aksa, L. M., Geria, I. M., Ramli, M., Siagian, L., Brand, H. E. A., & Brumm, A. (2021). The effects of climate change on the Pleistocene rock art of Sulawesi. Scientific Reports, 11(1).