World’s Oldest Cave Paintings Are Fading—Climate Change May Be to Blame

Repeated shifts between wet and dry conditions boost the growth of salt crystals that destabilize the rock canvas

Ancient rock art on a cave wall in Leang Sakapao, Indonesia. Credit: Linda Siagian


Some of the oldest art in human history is disintegrating, scientists say. And climate change may be hastening its demise.

New research reports that ancient rock art in Indonesian caves is degrading over time, as bits of rock slowly flake away from the walls. It’s a tremendous loss for human history — some of these paintings, which depict everything from animals to human figures to abstract symbols, date back about 40,000 years.


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