Archaeologists picked up the fragment in inaccessible wilderness in Arnhem Land in the country’s north a year ago, and recent carbon dating of its charcoal drawing has placed it among some of the oldest art on the planet.
“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,” said Bryce Barker, who found and first analysed the granite rock.
Barker said given it was one of the oldest known pieces of rock art on earth, it showed that Aboriginal people were responsible for some of the earliest examples.
Barker said the find ranks among rock art sites such as France’s Chauvet caves dated at older than 30,000 years and caves in northern Spain now thought to be 40,000 years old.
“The fact remains that any rock art that is older than 20,000 years is very unique around the world,” said Barker, a professor at the University of Southern Queensland.
“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 find was made at a massive rock shelter named Narwala Gabarnmang, which is covered on its ceiling and pillars with rock art, and only accessible by a 90 minute helicopter journey from the outback town of Katherine.
Archaeologists were first taken to the site five years ago by its Aboriginal custodians, the Jawoyn, who wanted to preserve the art and at the same time unlock some of the secrets of its history.
“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 said.
He added that the fragment, which likely fell from the rock’s ceiling shortly after it was drawn and therefore preserved in the soil, could have been part of a human figure drawn in action, such as throwing a spear.
Aboriginal rock art is dotted throughout the vast nation, much of it undocumented, and some have speculated that the images could date back 45,000 years.
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