Researchers have found that a tiny Indonesian island, previously unexplored by archaeologists, is very rich in ancient cave paintings dating from at least 2,500 years ago.The team uncovered a total of 28 rock art sites on the island of Kisar which measures just 81 square kilometres and lies north of East Timor.The paintings portray boats, dogs, horses and people often holding what look like shields. Other scenes show people playing drums, indicating performance of ceremonies."Archeologically, no one has ever explored this small island before," said lead archaeologist Sue O'Connor, Professor at the Australian National University (ANU)."These Indonesian islands were the heart of the spice trade going back for thousands of years," O'Connor added.The discovery points to a stronger shared history with the neighbouring island of Timor than had previously been known."The Kisar paintings include images which are remarkably similar to those in the east end of Timor-Leste (East Timor)," O'Connor said."A distinctive feature of the art in both islands is the exceptionally small size of the human and animal figures, most being less than 10 centimetres," she said, adding that despite their size,the paintings are remarkably dynamic.
A paper describing rock paintings at five of the discovered sites was published in the Cambridge Journal of Archaeology. These paintings help tell the story of the region's history of trade and culture. The relationship between the island of Kisar and East Timor likely extends back to the Neolithic period 3,500 years ago, which saw an influx of Austronesian settlers who introduced domestic animals, such as the dog, and perhaps cereal crops, O'Connor said.However, the close parallels between some of the painted figures and images cast on metal drums that began to be produced in northern Vietnam and southwest China about 2,500 years ago and traded throughout the region, indicate a more recent date for some of the paintings."These paintings perhaps herald the introduction of a new symbolic system established about two thousand years ago, following on the exchange of prestige goods and the beginning of hierarchical societies" she said.