There is considerable evidence that the babirusa of Sulawesi and its neighbouring islands has long attracted human attention. This is probably in part due to the male babirusa appearing as a bizarre compound of two familiar ungulates (babi = 'pig', rusa = 'deer') in that the male's upper canines resemble deer antlers. In October 2014, Aubert et al. announced in Nature that a cave art depiction in Leang Timpuseng, Maros, interpreted by the authors to depict a female babirusa, was created at least 35,400 years ago and is therefore of comparable antiquity to the oldest recorded Late Pleistocene cave art of Europe. Using geometric morphometrics, we compare the Leang Timpuseng cave art to profile photographs and illustrations depicting the babirusa and the endemic Sulawesi warty pig, including historical illustrations produced by Europeans during the period ~AD 1740-1860. Our analysis indicates that geometric morphometrics can be applied to meaningfully analyse naturalistic cave art. However, because of the relatively small sample size and that the male babirusa dominates both historical and contemporary illustrations, the results are only indicative. These are that the Leang Timpuseng cave art is more likely to be depicting a female, and that this depiction differs markedly from historical and contemporary illustrations in that it shows a morphologically female suid as independently active. With regards to which animal is depicted, the results suggest the Leang Timpuseng cave art is possibly either an illustration of a female hairy/golden babirusa, which has not yet been proven to have a range extending to Sulawesi, or the extinct Babyrousa bolabatuensis, which is part of the existing Sulawesi fossil record and has been noted to be similar in tooth size to the hairy/golden babirusa.
Publication Details Citation
Hayes, S., & van den Bergh, G. D. (2018). Cave art, art and geometric morphometrics: Shape changes and the babirusa of Sulawesi. Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health - Papers: Part B. https://doi.org/10.22459/TA48.11.2018.05. Retrieved from https://ro.uow.edu.au/smhpapers1/371