Lesson of the Day: ‘Pig Painting May Be World’s Oldest Cave Art Yet, Archaeologists Say’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Pig Painting May Be World’s Oldest Cave Art Yet, Archaeologists Say’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “Pig Painting May Be World’s Oldest Cave Art Yet, Archaeologists Say” by Becky Ferreira

In a hidden valley on an Indonesian island, archaeologists recently discovered a painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old. It may be the oldest figurative art ever glimpsed by modern eyes.

In this lesson, you will learn about the process of discovering and analyzing the painting. Then, you will think about examples of visual culture in 2020-21 and what future societies may learn about us through them.

Watch this two-minute video from the researchers at Griffith University who discovered the cave art to learn more about the painting and how they found it.

After watching the video, write down two things you learned and one question you have about the topic.

Then, think more broadly about the meaning of this discovery. Why might researchers be interested in this painting? What might it tell us about the artists who created it? What might it tell us about humans in general? If you are in a classroom, physical or virtual, discuss your responses with a classmate.

Read the article and then answer the following questions:

1. The pig painting was discovered on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. What are some other examples of cave art that have been found there? Why were these discoveries significant?

2. What can be learned from these examples of cave art? What new questions arise from these discoveries?

3. How were scientists able to discover the pig painting and then determine its date?

4. This art has opened a debate about who created it. Explain the positions on each side of the debate as you understand them. Do you agree with one position more than the other? Why?

5. What does Margaret Conkey, a professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, think is most significant about this discovery? Why?

6. Why is it so urgent that scientists locate and study other examples of early cave art?

What role do images play in our everyday lives? In our society and culture? In our history?

In writing or class discussion, think of all the ways we use images. What kinds of images do you encounter in your daily life? Where? What purposes do they serve? What messages do they convey? How do you use them to communicate and interact with others? Come up with at least five examples.

Then, consider this question: What do you think archaeologists or historians would understand about 2020 or 2021 from studying the visual culture surrounding you?

Choose one image from 2020 that feels the most representative of this past year for you. It could be a meme, an emoji, a drawing, a photograph, graffiti or anything else. Once you have your image, do the following:

  • Describe the image in detail.

  • Explain what it represents for you.

  • Tell us: How do you think the image might be understood in 100 or even 1,000 years from now? What might it say about this period in time? What will it tell future societies about us? What might it reflect about the human race as a whole?

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