Aboriginal Rock Drawing Found To Be Australia's Oldest
June 18, 2012

Aboriginal Rock Drawing Found To Be Australia’s Oldest

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com

Archeologists have just uncovered the oldest known Australian rock drawing, prompting experts to speculate that the earliest aboriginal groups were fairly advanced for their time.

A report to be published in the next edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science describes how the research team, led by University of Southern Queensland professor Bryce Barker, stumbled upon the rock art that dates back around 28,000 years.

While sifting through soil samples from the Narwala Gabarnmang site in northern Australia, Barker found a small rock that contained a fragment of a drawing made with charcoal.

“When I turned over that little piece of rock and saw that art I couldn´t believe it,” he said. “There I was sitting in the lab at USQ in Toowoomba with a piece of art that I knew had to be more than 20,000 years old.”

"One of the things that makes this little fragment of art unique is that it is drawn in charcoal... which means we could directly date it," Barker said.

A radiocarbon dating team led by Fiona Petchey from the University of Waikato in New Zealand took scrapings of the charcoal and determined it to be the oldest firmly dated rock art painting in Australia and amongst some of the earliest evidence of human painting in the world at 28,000 years old.

Experts say that artworks found at the Australian site rivals those found in France´s Chauvet caves that are older than 30,000 years and caves in northern Spain that are dated at 40,000 years old.

"The fact remains that any rock art that is older than 20,000 years is very unique around the world," Barker told the AFP news agency. "So it makes this amongst some of the oldest art in the world.”

"And we're convinced that we'll find older and the reason is that the site this comes from, we know that Aboriginal people started using this site 45,000 years ago."

The site, which was discovered in 2006 by helicopter, is under the care of its Aboriginal custodians, the Jawoyn Association, who called archeologists in to preserve the ancient art and to solve the mysteries of its history. Narwala Gabarnmang is well known for having one of the richest Aboriginal rock art sites in Australia and for having a wide range of artifacts. It has been described as the ℠Sistine Chapel of rock art sites´ for the paintings on its ceilings. The site also contained one of the world´s oldest stone tools, which was found there in 2010.

Barker said that the fragment most likely fell from the rock's ceiling shortly after it was drawn and therefore preserved in the soil. He added that this find suggests the possibility of discovering even older artifacts.

"We've only excavated a tiny fraction of the site and we expect there will be art older than 28,000 years in the site," Barker told AFP.

Incidentally, the oldest known rock art was discovered in Spain where hand stencils and red discs on the wall in an El Castillo cave are at least 40,800 years old, according to uranium-thorium dating techniques.