The oldest rock art of Australian aborigines found in the northwest of the continent

(ORDO NEWS) — In one of the caves on the northwestern coast of Australia, scientists have found the most ancient rock painting of the continent’s aborigines – a two-meter image of a kangaroo 17.1-17.5 thousand years old. An article describing the find was published by the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior.

“This drawing is stylistically similar to rock carvings of babirussus more than 40 thousand years old, which were recently found in Indonesia. This suggests that an even more ancient painting should be hiding in Australia,” said one of the authors of the article, a researcher at the University of Western Australia Sven Ousman.

It is believed that the first people reached Australia about 50 thousand years ago. At that time, the sea level was several tens of meters lower than modern, so ancient people could settle throughout the territory of the modern Sunda Islands, New Guinea and Australia, moving by land or shallow water.

Subsequently, the land “bridges” between the islands and continents were flooded by water. Therefore, it is very difficult to study the traces of the first settlements of Australian aborigines: most of them are presumably under water.

Scientists believe that this is why rock paintings more than 10 thousand years old are almost never found on the territory of Australia. In addition, many well-known cave drawings are very difficult to date: they are usually done using tools or other traces of a person, but they are not in the immediate vicinity.

Ousman and his colleagues solved this problem with a painting dating technique. Its use was helped by the fact that, in addition to the aborigines themselves, burrowing wasps (Crabronidae) lived in the caves of Australia. Representatives of this family do not build their colonies from paper or wax, but mold them from clay.

Analyzing photographs of rock paintings from caves in the Kimberley region on the northwest coast of Australia, scientists noticed that there are fragments of wasp colonies on the surface of these images and below them. Anthropologists have removed organic remains from wasp “houses” and measured their age using radiocarbon analysis.

This confirmed that the age of a significant part of the drawings is indeed about 10 thousand years ago, that is, they appeared after the sea level rose. On the other hand, one of the drawings, a two-meter image of a kangaroo in an unnamed DRY015 cave, turned out to be incredibly ancient. Scientists have estimated its minimum age at 17.1 thousand years, and the maximum – at 17.5 thousand years.

Scientists hope that the next measurements they plan to take in other Australian rock art caves will help them find even more ancient examples of prehistoric art. Through their study, scientists hope to understand how the culture and living conditions of the ancestors of the aborigines changed in the era when the ice age ended and the seas began to advance on land.

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