Rock Art at Nino Konis Santana National Park – East Timor - Atlas Obscura

East Timor

Rock Art at Nino Konis Santana National Park

Ancient images hide within the park's caves. 

Rock art found at Nino Konis Santana National Park consists of paintings created using different colors, but with some rare exceptions, only those drawn in black or dark brown are visible to the naked eye. Among the motifs portrayed in these caves are boats, animals, birds, people, the Sun, stars, geometric patterns, and figures featuring a mixture of human and animal traits.

The first caves within the park were explored and studied in 1966. The last nine caves were explored and studied for the first time in 2000. Considering the thick vegetation and rugged terrain, it would not be unfathomable to speculate that more rock art is yet to be found.

Carbon dating tests run on human-made findings from the Lene Hara cave show that humans have been living in this region for at least 30,000 years. The dating of the paintings, however, has proven to be more controversial. Some scholars initially claimed that the paintings date back to the Neolithic Age (about 12,000 years ago), but this view has been challenged by more recent research that suggests these images are from as recent as 2,500 years ago.

These rock paintings exhibit techniques, styles, and motifs also present on other islands in the South Pacific, including Australia. Techniques and styles can travel a long way, adapting to specific and diverse cultural contexts. Yet, the similarities in motifs suggest that in spite of the significant distance among them, these islands may have shared the same symbolic system. If this is the case, these societies must have had more interchanges with one another than previously thought.

Know Before You Go

The rock art sites are located on the island's easternmost tip, within the boundaries of Nino Konis Santana National Park. Some can be found near the dirt track leading from Tutuala to Waloo beach, while others are located deeper in the forest. The most commonly known of these sites are Ile Kere Kere, Lene Hara, and Jerimalai.


For the caves near Tutuala, you can ask people for directions. They are near the dirt track to Waloo beach, and the path leading to these sites is clear. For caves deeper in the forest, you need to hire a guide.

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