Journal cover Journal topic
Proceedings of the ICA
Journal topic
Articles | Volume 1
16 May 2018
 | 16 May 2018

Sangkulirang Mangkalihat: The Earliest Prehistoric Rock-Art in the World

Dirga Imam Gozali Sumantri, Dicky A. S. Soeria Atmadja, and Pindi Setiawan

Keywords: Rock-art, Borneo, Cartography

Abstract. Borneo island, a part of Sundaland – a great mainland in South East Asia thousands of years ago – is the largest island in Indonesian Archipelago. In the middle-eastern of East Borneo, lies a peninsula karst region named Sangkulirang Mangkalihat. The region’s biodiversity contains many species of flora and fauna which are part of karst ecosystem.
Surprisingly, thousands prehistoric rock art paintings and engraving were found here, spread over 48 inland caves in seven different karst mountain areas. The rock arts are painted on the ceiling, wall, and hollow of the cave depends on the meaning. They illustrate forms such as spiritual images (zoomorphic and antropomorphic) for sacred spiritual meaning, and social phenomenon images (tools and weapons) for description of daily life. From all those rock-arts, hand paintings are the most common elements appeared. Compared to other paintings, these are the only negative images using different techniques.
Radiocarbon dating indicated that the rock-arts at Tewet Cave in Sangkulirang Mangkalihat is 40,000 BP. It is much earlier compared to Lascaux Cave (35,400 BP) and Chauvet Cave (32,000) in France which were previously known as the earliest one in the world.
Rock arts and some archeological findings also indicate the migration of Austronesian People. During the migration, Borneo’s climate and land cover were changing from time to time. Continental climate occurred when all Sundaland was still dry (40,000–21,000 BP), followed by tropical savanna climate and archipelagic climate (12,000–7.000 BP), and then Tropical Rainforest consecutively (1,000 BP). Correlatively, geological interpretations from such areas indicate land cover changes. These changes effected Austronesian ways of living, e.g. from hunting to fishing, and were depicted clearly on their paintings.
Today, – as observed from time series satellite images – industrial activities such as karst exploitation for cement production and land clearing for palm oil plantation are threatening Sangkulirang Mangkalihat as they are approaching this particular areas. Efforts were conducted to preserve these particular sites, from establishing local regulations to a great step to propose it as one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage.
To disseminate its importance as the world’s earliest known rock arts, a particular map should be designed. The map should be able to describe multiple aspects regarding these sites, i.e. its location and position among other world rock arts, detail locations in the sites, climate and geomorphological changes occurred and its effects to these rock arts, its correlation to prehistoric migration, and threats faced today from industrial activities. An integrated, multiscale representation of such geospatial informations is considered.

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