A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World

Rock art is a vital part of Indigenous culture in Australia, and offers a window onto how humans lived and thought on this continent from the earliest period of human habitation. Rock art is the oldest surviving human art form. Across Australia rock art is an integral part of Aboriginal life and customs, dating back to the earliest times of human settlement on the continent. Petroglyphs rock engravings and pictographs drawings are a key component of rock art. Researchers estimate that there are more than , significant rock art sites around Australia. The first humans arrived in Australia at least 65, years ago. Aboriginal rock art has been dated to around 30, years ago, although there are possibly much older sites on the continent. All cultures use imagery to tell stories, so it is likely that, from the time of their first arrival in Australia, Aboriginal people were using artworks in sacred and public sites to give form to their narratives. Rock art consists of paintings, drawings, engravings, stencils, bas-relief carvings and figures made of beeswax in rock shelters and caves.

Australian Rock Art

I struggle to keep my footing on a narrow ridge of earth snaking between flooded fields of rice. The stalks, almost ready to harvest, ripple in the breeze, giving the valley the appearance of a shimmering green sea. In the distance, steep limestone hills rise from the ground, perhaps feet tall, the remains of an ancient coral reef. Rivers have eroded the landscape over millions of years, leaving behind a flat plain interrupted by these bizarre towers, called karsts, which are full of holes, channels and interconnecting caves carved by water seeping through the rock.

We approach the nearest karst undeterred by a group of large black macaques that screech at us from trees high on the cliff and climb a bamboo ladder through ferns to a cave called Leang Timpuseng.

Kakadu’s rock art (gunbim) represents one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. The paintings provide a fascinating record of Aboriginal life over thousands of years. Dating rock art We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing​.

Prof Andy Gleadow is confident that a multi-disciplinary approach using a combination of dating technologies and analysis of very large data sets will change our understanding of Australian Aboriginal rock art found in shelters and its relationship to an evolving landscape. The Kimberley Rock Art project involves a large team of researchers with complementary specialties from multiple institutions University of Western Australia , Universities of Wollongong , Melbourne and Manchester , including ANSTO dating specialists, who are working together with the Indigenous Traditional Owners to obtain a chronology for the extraordinary rock art sequence of the Kimberley.

Gleadow said that the Kimberley rock art sequence is characterised by tremendous artistic skill, great abundance and a diversity of painting styles that occur in a relative time sequence that may well span the past 50, years—since the arrival of first Australians. Frequently a particular painting style is superimposed over an earlier painting. You cannot separate the art from the rock surface upon which it is painted nor from the landscape where art is found within rock shelters.

Establishing chronologies for the rock art has proved extraordinarily challenging, because most pigments lack constituents that can be dated with well known and accepted methods, such as radiocarbon or uranium series isotopes—not to mention the vast distances and remoteness of sites where the rock art is found. Most of the intense Kimberley work has been done in areas around the Drysdale River, King George River and along the coast around Doubtful Bay that contain ancient sandstone escarpments that appear to be optimum surfaces for rock art application.

The sites are so remote that access is usually by helicopter. The methods, which have produced hundreds of dates, include cosmogenic radionuclides to date rock art shelter formation and rates of landscape evolution processes; radiocarbon dating of organic constituents within mud wasp nests and oxalate mineral layers; optically stimulated luminescence OSL dating of large wasp nest complexes, and uranium-series dating of particular minerals within surface mineral accretions.

Australian rock art

Previous surveys suggested some Kimberley painting were 16, years old, but the latest findings proved the Aboriginal rock art was much younger. For the study, published this week in the journal Science Advances , scientists collected and analyzed mud wasp nests from rock art sites. Gwion Gwion paintings, also called Bradshaw rock paintings, are one of the two main regional rock art traditions in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

The paintings, ranging in size from six inches to six feet, feature tall and slender human figures in ornate costume. Many Gwion paintings include figures sporting headdresses, arm bands and anklets.

The biggest-ever push to accurately date Australian rock art is under The oldest rock art in the Kimberley is currently dated at 17, years.

To support our nonprofit science journalism, please make a tax-deductible gift today. Ceremonial Gwion paintings in Western Australia may be 12, years old, according to new dates from fossilized wasp nests upper left. When lost Australian rancher Joseph Bradshaw stumbled across dancing, mulberry-colored figures painted on a rock shelter in the northwestern Kimberly region in , he was mesmerized: They looked like no rock art he had seen before.

Now, scientists have used tiny specks of charcoal in fossilized wasp nests to come up with a new date for the paintings: 12, years ago. Two decades ago, he used the nests to date the Gwions using a different technique; the new dates, he says, are solid. Dating the ancient works of art is hard for many reasons. The charcoal often used for the Wanjina eyes allows for radiocarbon dating and puts the age of these paintings at up to years.

But the Gwion palette did not appear to include charcoal. To overcome that problem, Roberts and colleagues had turned to scores of ancient wasp nests speckled across the rock faces. Like the artists, mud wasps are partial to rock shelters, and they built some nests directly on top of the paintings—meaning the paintings are older than the nests.

And some researchers were skeptical the nest and painting could be linked. Mud wasps include flecks of charcoal in their mud nests, which can later be used to carbon date the nests—and the paintings below. Two decades later, Melbourne University Ph.

Scientists make new discovery in Aboriginal rock art

Academic journal article Rock Art Research. Australia has one of the largest concentrations of rock art of any country. It is estimated that there are at least sites but because there is no national database and there are many areas yet to be surveyed we do not know exactly how many rock art sites there are. Each year hundreds of undocumented sites are located and recorded across Australia by teams of archaeologists working with Indigenous Traditional Owners, Aboriginal ranger groups or avid bush walkers hikers with an interest in heritage.

The oldest scientifically dated rock art is 28 years of age but used pieces of ochre and ochre on rock fragments have been recovered from archaeological deposits dated to over 60 years. People used pigment upon arrival in Australia and ever since.

Dating the aboriginal rock art sequence of the Kimberley in NW Australia Of Parks And Wildlife, Government Of Western Australia Research Organization.

Rock fragment bearing traces of a charcoal drawing, carbon-dated to 26, BCE. Found at the aboriginal rock shelter of Nawarla Gabarnmang in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, is the oldest work of art ever found on the continent of Australia. Hand Stencil Painting. Aboriginal art, Kimberley Region. Handprints and cupules are believed to constitute the oldest forms of aboriginal parietal art in Australia, dating perhaps to 40, BCE.

However, this remains unconfirmed by carbon-dating results. Bradshaws now called Gwion art are among the most sophicated forms of cave painting in Australia.

Wasp nests used to date ancient Kimberley rock art

Bruno David, Paul S. Over 65 years of research since the late s has led to numerous rockshelters being excavated and the documentation of an astonishing array of imagery on shelter walls and ceilings Figure 1. To the broader world remote and rugged in its physical state, Arnhem Land was transformed over tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal settlement into sequential networks of cultural landscapes, clan estates, sacred sites and places imbued with complex history.

Its rock art is amongst the richest, most diverse and visually most impressive regional assemblage anywhere in the world. Themes in recent rock art research include detailed analysis of changing subject matter, radiocarbon dating of beeswax figures, Harris Matrix sequences and excavating in deposits under painted surfaces — all further developed in this monograph.

The oldest scientifically dated rock art is 28 years of age but used pieces of ochre and ochre on rock fragments have been recovered from archaeological.

February 6, Mud wasp nests have helped establish a date for one of the ancient styles of Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley. One wasp nest date suggested one Gwion painting was older than 16, years, but the pattern of the other 23 dates is consistent with the Gwion Gwion period being 12, years old. The rock paintings , more than twice as old as the Giza Pyramids, depict graceful human figures with a wide range of decorations including headdresses, arm bands, and anklets.

Some of the paintings are as small as 15cm, others are more than two meters high. The details of the breakthrough are detailed in the paper 12,year-old Aboriginal rock art from the Kimberley region, Western Australia, now published in Science Advances. More than mud wasp nests collected from Kimberley sites, with the permission of the Traditional Owners, were crucial in identifying the age of the unique rock art.

Lack of organic matter in the pigment used to create the art had previously ruled out radiocarbon dating.

Wasp nests reveal the age of ancient Aboriginal rock art

To browse Academia. Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Download Free PDF. How old are Australia’s pictographs?

Aboriginal Rock Art (some of the art has been acurately dated at 15, years old however a lot of Australian Aboriginal Rock Art is suspected to be up to.

The Gwion Gwion paintings , Bradshaw rock paintings , Bradshaw rock art , Bradshaw figures or The Bradshaws are terms used to describe one of the two major regional traditions of rock art found in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia. Since over 5, of the 8, known examples of Bradshaw art have been damaged, and up to 30 completely destroyed by fire, as a result of WA government land-management actions. Rock art in the Kimberley region was first recorded by the explorer and future South Australian governor, Sir George Grey as early as While searching for suitable pastoral land in the then remote Roe River area in , pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw discovered an unusual type of rock art on a sandstone escarpment.

In a subsequent address to the Victorian branch of the Royal Geographical Society , he commented on the fine detail, the colours, such as brown, yellow and pale blue, and he compared it aesthetically to that of Ancient Egypt. American archaeologist Daniel Sutherland Davidson briefly commented on Bradshaw’s figures while undertaking a survey of Australian rock art that he would publish in Davidson noted that Bradshaw’s encounter with this art was brief and lacked any Aboriginal interpretations; furthermore, as Bradshaw’s sketches of the art were at this time the only visual evidence, Davidson argued that they could be inaccurate and possibly drawn from a Eurocentric bias.

Several researchers who encountered the Bradshaw-type of paintings during expeditions to the region were members of the Frobenius Institute expedition. When pressed, the expedition’s Aboriginal guide explained their creation: [14]. He struck his bill against the stones so that it Bleed, and with the blood he painted. He painted no animals, only human-shaped figures which probably represent spirits. Anthropologist Robert Layton notes that researchers such as Ian Crawford, who worked in the region in , and Patricia Vinnicombe, who worked in the region in the s, were both told similar creation stories regarding the Bradshaw-type art.

Mud wasps used to date Australia’s aboriginal rock art

The recent establishment of a minimum age estimate of Tantalising excavated evidence found across northern Australian suggests that Australia too contains a wealth of ancient art. However, the dating of rock art itself remains the greatest obstacle to be addressed if the significance of Australian assemblages are to be recognised on the world stage.

to produce some of the first reliable radiocarbon dates for Australian rock art in a study just published online in The Journal of Archaeological.

A momentum of research is building in Australia’s Kimberley region, buoyed by the increasing local and international interest in the rich cultural heritage associated with our first Australians. My research focuses on understanding the complex formation mechanisms associated with mineral accretions forming on the walls and ceilings of rock art shelters. Often found to over and underlie rock paintings and engravings, once characterised, recent advances I have made in the application of radiogenic dating techniques to these accretions, are providing the first opportunity to produce maximum, minimum and bracketing ages for the associated rock art.

These ages are being used to anchor this rock art sequence to an absolute chronology and to integrate it into the emerging archaeological record of colonisation and settlement in northern Australia, increasing our understanding of Australia’s first people and helping to gain recognition for the Kimberley region as a heritage site of international significance. This research has been based around extensive remote fieldwork in the Drysdale and King George River and Doubtful Bay regions of the Kimberley in northern Western Australia, working alongside local traditional owners and pastoral lease holders.

I work in a large research team which includes a range of experts in archaeology and alternative dating techniques such as optically stimulated luminescence and cosmogenic nuclide dating. To fully understand the rock art of the Kimberley requires a range of expertise across a number of disciplines. However, my individual research has characterised mineral accretions found in Kimberley rock shelters and identified and developed the opportunities they provide for radiogenic dating of paintings and engravings found in this region of Australia.

My fieldwork has been guided by extensive rock art recording by previous researchers at thousands of sites across the area, allowing our team to easily locate large complexes of art which have already been assigned to particular style brackets. During four remote field camps between , I carefully collected hundreds of tiny mineral accretion samples from above and below rock art motifs with permission from the relevant traditional land owner.

Our sampling has spanned a wide region including both inland and coastal locations and has focussed on encompassing art from the six well established and distinct styles observed in the Kimberley. The sampled accretions have been returned to the laboratory and mineralogically and geochemically characterised using a range of techniques which include powder x-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, stable isotope analysis, fourier transform infra-red spectroscopy and laser-ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry.

This detailed characterisation has identified four key mineral depositional systems in Kimberley rock art shelters; polychrome fringe deposits, dispersed wall coatings, floor glazes and silica skins.

Ancient Nests of Mud Wasps Used to Date Australian Aboriginal Rock Art

By Bruce Bower. February 5, at pm. In a stinging rebuke of that idea, a new study suggests that most of these figures were painted much more recently — around 12, to 11, years ago.

However, it also needs to be stressed that the interpretation of rock-art has always also been guided and misguided by the difficulties of dating the imagery (​.

Oliver Milman meets the Indigenous rangers and researchers working to protect delicate sandstone from the triple threat of mining, graffiti and feral animals. This domain name is listed for sale through the Snapnames platform. As art goes, it’s a Quaternary classic. An archaeologist discovered an aboriginal cave painting in the Australian outback that was created 28, years ago.

Possible image of extinct Thylacoleo in Kimberley rock art. Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube. There are many questions about this claimed identification. Most importantly: how can we know what a species looked like when it became extinct such a long time ago?

Rock art dating

The project started back in with funding from the Australian Research Council and is the first-time scientists have been able to date a range of these ancient artworks, which people have been trying to establish for more than 20 years. A combination of the most sophisticated nuclear science and radiocarbon dating and mud wasp nests. Image supplied. Mud wasp nests, which are commonly found in rock shelters in the remote Kimberley region, also occur across northern Australia and are known to survive for tens of thousands of years.

Washington DC (UPI) Feb 06, – Researchers have used mud wasp nests to narrow the age range of Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley.

Kakadu National Park: Updated list of sites open and reopening to visitors. Some paintings are up to 20, years old, which makes the artwork one of the longest historical records of any group of people on Earth. Our main rock art galleries are at Ubirr and Burrungkuy Nourlangie. Look for naturalistic paintings of animals, traditional x-ray art, and paintings of early contact with European people.

The act of painting is generally more important than the painting itself, so older paintings are often covered by younger ones. Rock art is still very relevant to local Aboriginal people. It shows objects they still use, animals they still hunt and activities they still do. Some sites and paintings could only be painted by people with the right knowledge. For example, sorcery paintings could only be painted by the holder of magic knowledge. Other paintings, particularly at sites depicting the stories of creation ancestors, were often re-painted.

They made brushes from human hair, reeds, feathers and chewed sticks.

Kimberley Rock Art ABC 7.30 Report Kimberley Foundation Australia