It grows like barnacles on the ceilings and walls. This story is a selection from the January-February issue of Smithsonian magazine. Ramli knows the art in these caves intimately. The first one he visited, as a student in , was a small site called Leang Kassi. He remembers it well, he says, not least because while staying overnight in the cave he was captured by local villagers who thought he was a headhunter.
Almost all of the markings he shows me, in ocher and charcoal, appear in relatively exposed areas, lit by the sun. And they were apparently made by all members of the community.
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At one site, I climb a fig tree into a small, high chamber and am rewarded by the outline of a hand so small it could belong to my 2-year-old son. At another, hands are lined up in two horizontal tracks, all with fingers pointing to the left. Elsewhere there are hands with slender, pointed digits possibly created by overlapping one stencil with another; with painted palm lines; and with fingers that are bent or missing. Perhaps, he suggests, the stencils with missing fingers indicate that this practice too has ancient origins.
This is my home. There are two main phases of artwork in these caves. Alongside these are red and occasionally purplish-black paintings that look very different: hand stencils and animals, including the babirusa in Leang Timpuseng, and other species endemic to this island, such as the warty pig. The youngest stencil was dated to no more than 27, years ago, showing that this artistic tradition lasted largely unchanged on Sulawesi for at least 13 millennia. The findings obliterated what we thought we knew about the birth of human creativity.
At a minimum, they proved once and for all that art did not arise in Europe. By the time the shapes of hands and horses began to adorn the caves of France and Spain, people here were already decorating their own walls. On that, experts are divided. He points out that although hand stencils are common in Europe, Asia and Australia, they are rarely seen in Africa at any time. You have to find your way around, and deal with strange plants, predators and prey.
Perhaps people in Africa were already decorating their bodies, or making quick drawings in the ground. But with rock markings, the migrants could signpost unfamiliar landscapes and stamp their identity onto new territories. He thinks these techniques must have arisen in Africa before the waves of migrations off the continent began. The eminent French prehistorian Jean Clottes believes that techniques such as stenciling may well have developed separately in different groups, including those who eventually settled on Sulawesi.
People arrived on Sulawesi as part of a wave of migration from east Africa that started around 60, years ago, likely traveling across the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula to present-day India, Southeast Asia and Borneo, which at the time was part of the mainland. To reach Sulawesi, which has always been an island, they would have needed boats or rafts to cross a minimum of 60 miles of ocean. Brumm and his team have unearthed evidence of fire-building, hearths and precisely crafted stone tools, which may have been used to make weapons for hunting. Yet while the inhabitants of this cave sometimes hunted large animals such as wild boar, the archaeological remains show that they mostly ate freshwater shellfish and an animal known as the Sulawesi bear cuscus—a slow-moving tree-dwelling marsupial with a long, prehensile tail.
Ancient Sulawesians, it seems, were likewise moved to depict larger, more daunting and impressive animals than the ones they frequently ate. Aubert is collecting samples of limestone from painted caves elsewhere in Asia, including in Borneo, along the route that migrants would have taken to Sulawesi. And he and Smith are also independently working to develop new techniques to study other types of caves, including sandstone sites common in Australia and Africa. Smith, working with colleagues at several institutions, is just getting the first results from an analysis of paintings and engravings in the Kimberley, an area in northwestern Australia reached by modern humans at least 50, years ago.
Or that competition with Neanderthals, present in Europe until around 25, years ago, pushed modern humans to express their identity by painting on cave walls—ancient hominin flag-planting. Clottes has championed the theory that in Europe, where art was hidden deep inside dark chambers, the main function of cave paintings was to communicate with the spirit world. Smith is likewise convinced that in Africa, spiritual beliefs drove the very first art. He cites Rhino Cave in Botswana, where archaeologists have found that 65, to 70, years ago people sacrificed carefully made spearheads by burning or smashing them in front of a large rock panel carved with hundreds of circular holes.
There are also scattered fragments, probably dropped and splashed when the artists ground up their ocher before mixing it with water—enough, in fact, that this entire slice of earth is stained cherry red. Brumm says this layer of habitation stretches back at least 28, years, and he is in the process of analyzing older layers, using radiocarbon dating for the organic remains and uranium series dating of horizontal stalagmites that run through the sediment. If religious belief played a part, it was entwined with everyday life.
In the middle of this cave floor, the first Sulawesians sat together around the fire to cook, eat, make tools—and to mix paint. In a small hidden valley Aubert, Ramli and I walk across fields of rice in the early morning. Dragonflies glitter in the sun. At the far edge, we climb a set of steps high up a cliff to a breathtaking view and a cavernous entrance hall inhabited by swallows. In a low chamber inside, pigs amble across the ceiling.
Two appear to be mating—unique for cave art, Ramli points out. Another, with a swollen belly, might be pregnant. He speculates that this is a story of regeneration, the stuff of myth. Past the pigs, a passageway leads to a deeper chamber where, at head height, there is a panel of well-preserved stencils including the forearms, which look as if they are reaching right out of the wall. We want to know: Who made it?
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Forty thousand years later, standing here in the torchlight feels like witnessing a spark or a birth, a sign of something new in the universe. Outlined by splattered paint, fingers spread wide, the marks look insistent and alive. Whatever was meant by these stencils, there can be no stronger message in viewing them: We are human.
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Dated to: 30, to 28, B. Once thought to house the oldest representational art, the more than 1, paintings of predators like lions and mammoths are unmatched in their sophistication. Coliboaia Cave, Bihor, Romania. Dated to: 30, B. This cave, often flooded by an underground river, revealed images to spelunkers in —a bison, a horse, a feline and the heads of bears and rhinos. Dated to: 28, to 6, B. In this national park, paintings of jaguar, tapir and red deer shown here, c.
Lie down and relax. Position yourself on your back in your chosen room. Close your eyes and try to clear your mind of distracting thoughts. Concentrate on your body and how it feels. The goal is to achieve a state of complete mind and body relaxation. Flex your muscles and then loosen them. Start with your toes and work your way up your body, gradually making your way to your head. Make sure every muscle is completely relaxed when you are through.
Breathe deeply and exhale completely.
Don't hold tension in your chest and shoulders, just relax. Focus your mind on your breathing. Don't get carried away with thoughts of outside worries, and don't get preoccupied yet with the idea of your soul projecting from your body. Just let yourself sink into relaxation. It can be helpful to use a quartz crystal to raise and speed up your vibrations as preparation. Gently hold the crystal on your third eye slightly above the centre of your eyebrows with closed eyes and breathing deeply. Feel the vibrations and your head clearing; you can envision golden, white, purple or any colour light if you like.
During the meditation and astral travelling you can hold the crystal in your hand or place it on your chest or abdomen. The crystal will empower and protect you because of its high vibrations; negative energies have lower vibrations. Reach a hypnotic state. This hypnotic state is normally known as the hypnagogic state. Let your body and mind approach sleep, but don't completely lose consciousness. Being at the edge of wakefulness and sleep, a hypnotic state, is necessary for astral projection to occur.
Reach this state using the following method: Keeping your eyes closed, let your mind wander to a part of your body, such as your hand, foot or a single toe.
Enter into a state of vibration. Many report feeling vibrations, which come in waves at different frequencies, as the soul prepares to leave the body. Don't be afraid of the vibrations, since the presence of fear might cause you to leave your meditative state; instead, succumb to the vibrations as your soul prepares to leave your body. Use your mind to move your soul from your body. Imagine in your mind the room in which you are lying.
Move your body in your mind to stand up. Look around yourself. Get up off the bed and walk across the room, then turn around and look at your body on the bed. Your OBE is successful if you feel as though you are gazing upon your body from across the room, and that your conscious self is now separate from your body. It takes a lot of practice to get to this point for some people, though for others it comes as naturally as breathing. Either way it is possible for everyone if it is desired and practised enough! If you have trouble completely lifting your soul from your body, try lifting just a hand or a leg at first.
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Keep practising until you're able to move across the room. Return to your body. Your soul always remains connected to your body with an invisible force, sometimes referred to as a "silver cord. Re-enter your body. Move your fingers and toes - physically, not just in your mind - and let yourself regain full consciousness. Confirm that you are projecting your soul from your body. Once you have mastered the act of projecting your soul from your body in the same room, you will want to confirm that you were indeed in two separate planes.
Next time you practice the astral projection, don't turn around to look at your body. Instead, leave the room and walk into another room in the house. Examine an object in the other room, something that you had never noticed before in the physical sense. Make a mental note of its color, shape and size, paying attention to as many details as possible. Explore further. During subsequent astral projection sessions, go to locations that are less and less familiar to you. Each time, note details that you had never noticed before.
After each session, physically verify the details. After a few trips, you will be experienced enough to travel to locations that are completely unfamiliar with the confidence that you have actually performed astral projection. Some say that astral projection is dangerous, especially when one gets enough practice to explore unfamiliar places but it need not be.
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Those people simply don't understand it or fear it because they don't use enough protection, as long as you ask for protection in your own way it'll be a good experience. Before you astral project it is nice to imagine yourself bathed in a glowing, white light. Imagine it as a cloud around you or inside you; this will protect you from other thought forms or negative energy forms.
There is so much to get into, but know that no harm will come to you unless you think it will.
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The thrill of having an OBE keeps some people out of their bodies for long periods of time, which is said to weaken the silver cord but the silver cord cannot be weakened. It is pure energy and energy can't be eliminated or removed, only moved from one place to another, or one form or another so don't worry about astral travelling; it is natural, powerful and healing. The silver cord can never be broken, but it is said that your soul can be delayed from re-entering your body if you spend too much energy outside of it. Yet your soul and body are so intrinsically entwined that the soul will naturally come back when it's right to.
Some say that demons can inhabit the body while the soul is being projected. If you fear this may happen, protect your body by blessing the room with a prayer before you perform projection. It is only hearsay anyway and seeing as you'll have already asked for light protection nothing bad will occur.
Your soul can also interact with other astral projections. Try it with a friend who has practiced as much as you have. Some say astral sex is mind blowing. However, remember to always return to your body. It is possible to heal others during astral travel; this is a form of distance healing that is very powerful. Envision the sick person, perhaps lying in their bed. It doesn't matter if they're not physically in their bed while you're doing it because time and distance become void when you're in the astral plane.
Always ask for protection, healing power and guidance from whomever you pray to and envision light; you can ask during astral projection as and when you wish. See light in your hands as white and strong as you can, and if you feel ready put one hand on their forehead and another on their abdomen and pour the light into them. Your intentions must be pure and you should be feeling nothing but love for them.
Sometimes people will report back to you that something amazing has happened to them, even though you didn't tell them you were the source of it! Enjoy your astral journeys! It can be made worse by imagining that malevolent beings are around you and threatening to harm you but you cannot get away. So, while sleep paralysis may be a state that aids astral projection for some people, the subjective experience of each is quite different.
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