Some of the world's oldest ancient rock art - estimated to be more than 44,000 years old - is being destroyed by the effects of climate change, researchers said.
The art was believed to have been created by an ancient civilization in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Researchers at Australia's Griffith University and Indonesia experts said the historically significant rock paintings are being destroyed at an alarming rate. The vivid and priceless paintings of animals, hunting scenes and ancient gods are being erased as temperatures rise and weather becomes more extreme.
A study published by the researchers in Scientific Reports looked at the current condition of the artworks in 11 limestone karst sites in Maros-Pangkep. The ancient art was first discovered in the 1950s. However, scientists only knew their actual age in 2014, thanks to modern equipment.
"What we've learnt from this rock art in South Sulawesi, in just one region, in just 10 or 11 years has completely changed what we thought we knew about the human story," researchers said.
Scientists and anthropologists have been studying cave art and artifacts found in the caves for decades. Researchers said future generations may not have the same opportunity as the artworks are deteriorating owing to climate change.
Researchers said climate change - increasing temperatures and more powerful monsoons - have accelerated the buildup of salt crystals within the caves.
The study called on the local government and the international community to allocate more resources to survey more artworks and conduct regional risk assessments.
"This is us. These are our ancestors, some of the very first humans in this region. We still don't know very much about them. The discovery of this art has literally rewritten textbooks," the study said.
Scientists said rock crystal buildup is a fairly normal process but climate change has accelerated it to an alarming rate. Researchers at Griffith University said more than 300 known rock art sites across South Sulawesi have been affected.
"The art is there because it's reached an equilibrium with its environment. But something like the acceleration of weathering under climate change, you tip that balance and something that's lasted for more than 40,000 years can go, just like that. You start to see the impacts almost instantly," researchers said.