The effects of climate change on the Pleistocene rock art of Sulawesi
The equatorial tropics house some of the earliest rock art yet known, and it is weathering at an alarming rate. Here we present evidence for haloclasty (salt crystallisation) from Pleistocene-aged rock art panels at 11 sites in the Maros-Pangkep limestone karsts of southern Sulawesi. We show how quickly rock art panels have degraded in recent decades, contending that climate-catalysed salt efflorescence is responsible for increasing exfoliation of the limestone cave surfaces that house the ~ 45 to 20-thousand-year-old paintings. These artworks are located in the world’s most atmospherically dynamic region, the Australasian monsoon domain. The rising frequency and severity of El Niño-induced droughts from anthropogenic climate change (that is, higher ambient temperatures and more consecutive dry days), combined with seasonal moisture injected via monsoonal rains retained as standing water in the rice fields and aquaculture ponds of the region, increasingly provide ideal conditions for evaporation and haloclasty, accelerating rock art deterioration.
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