Salt erosion decaying world's oldest cave painting

Inside a limestone cave on Indonesia's island of Sulawesi is a sacred slice of history.

Apainting of humans with animal characteristics hunting is believed to be the oldest cave painting, dating back nearly 44, 000 years.

But in recent years, archaeologists have found that the hand drawn images are starting to decay at a rapid pace - likely caused by climate change.

Warming temperatures and the increasing severity of El Nino events have helped speed up salt crystallisation in the cave, effectively "exfoliating" the painting.

Archaelogist Basran Burhan, from Griffith University explains more:

"The impact is very severe and will destroy the paintings. Of course it is a great loss for us, because this is a very spectacular piece of work by our ancestors, who made these artistic paintings that are full of stories."

A paper published by Australian and Indonesian archaeologists in Scientific Reports last month said prolonged drought combined with heavy monsoonal rainfall has created "highly favourable" conditions for the salt crystallisation.

The wiping out of the painting would be a great loss for history and culture.

For now, archaeologists are monitoring the growth of salt crystals on the cave wall and racing against the clock to try and preserve the art.

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