Herodotus Returns


Aboriginal art in Australia could be oldest in world
June 1, 2010, 7:59 pm
Filed under: Australia, Rock Art

Rock art recently found on a shelter wall in Northern Australia displays a large bird resembling Geyornis, an emu-like megafauna that supposedly disappeared from Australia 40,000 years ago. If the painting is in fact a depiction of Geyornis and if the bird in fact went extinct when researchers say it did, then this painting is the oldest rock art in the world, predating Chauvet cave in France by 7,000 years. Currently, the earliest dated pigment in Australia is 28,000 years BP.

But there’s no good archaeological or palaeontological evidence that Genyornis survived longer than about 40,000 years ago, says Bruno David, an archaeologist and rock art specialist at Monash University in Melbourne, who has seen photos of the painting and who has worked in the region. “If this is Genyornis, then it has to be more than 40,000 years old,” he says.

Robert is now planning to record the site in much more detail, and next year Bruno and his team will excavate the area thoroughly. A rock fall created the exposed face on which the painting was made. By studying buried samples from beneath the fallen rock, the team should be able to work out the age of the rock face. If it is older than 40,000 years, this won’t prove that the painting is that old, but it will support the idea that it could be.

Some rock art specialists strongly suspect that the painting is younger. The oldest pigment found on a rock anywhere in Australia is 28,000 years old, but the image is so covered with dust and other rocky accretions, it’s impossible to know what it looked like.

The Genyornis site is a shallow shelter and most such paintings in Australia are thought to be less than about 5,000 years old; older ones are thought to have been eroded away by weather. The Chauvet artworks, in contrast, are deep inside a cave that was sealed for more than 20,000 years. However, some of the sandstone in Arnhem Land does have the advantage of being extremely hard and durable.

More on the extinct megafauna rock art in Australia.

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