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.
Generally speaking, radiocarbon dating cannot readily be used to date Australian indigenous rock art directly, because it is characterised by the use of ochre, an inorganic mineral pigment that contains no carbon. The paper authors explain that carbon found in the mineral crusts on the rock surface was most probably was formed by microorganisms.
One of the peer review authors who reviewed the paper prior to publication predicted it could become a benchmark for studies of this type as it addressed a complete lack of chromometric data for rock art in Australia and elsewhere.
Development of new techniques makes it possible to date Australian Aboriginal rock art
Another reviewer called it the most significant rock art and dating paper to have been produced in Australia for over 25 years. The approach has produced an upper and lower limit of dates for a regional art style known as Northern Running Figures NRF or Mountford figures, believed to have been produced in Australia during the early to mid-Holocene 10, - 6, years ago. The limited distribution of the NRF style and its unclear relationship to earlier and later art styles has posed challenges for rock art researchers.
Jones et al report that the minimum age of the NRF rock art style based on the oldest sample is reported to be - BP before presentwhich also produces a minimum age for other art styles that occur in the 'Middle Period' sequence.
Jones said "the results are exciting as although they generally support the chronology and assumed antiquity for the NRF art style, they provide minimum ages which suggest that the art style is actually a few thousand years older than what was anticipated.
They also demonstrate that the art style was painted over a considerably long period. Most excitingly the results also provide the chronometric data to support a Pleistocene antiquity for the earliest known figurative art styles, such as Dynamic Figures, in Arnhem Land.
Although there have been similar approaches in other studies they used only single samples, in our analysis we reported on nine samples from paintings from two Arnhem Land archaeological sites," said Levchenko. They have overcome problems with an approach first proposed and tested by archaeologist Dr David Watchman in Australia in the s, who tried to do the radiocarbon dating using the bulk of the crust.
The authors expect determining the radiocarbon ages using only the calcium oxalate minerals, greatly improves the accuracy.
The research had the full support of the local Manilakarr Clan estate in western Arnhem Land and is the result of a long term collaboration with Ms Jones and other ANU collaborators with the Njanjma Rangers and the Djabulukgu Association. Alfred Nayingull was a co-author on the paper.
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Ancient paintings date back 28,000 years
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Generally speaking, radiocarbon dating cannot readily be used to date Australian indigenous rock art directly, because it is characterised by the use of ochre, an inorganic mineral pigment that contains no carbon. The paper authors explain that carbon found in the mineral crusts on the rock surface was most probably was formed by microorganisms. Dec 07, Another reviewer called it the most significant rock art and dating paper to have been produced in Australia for over 25 years. The approach has .
Photo: Tristen Jones.
Dating aboriginal rock art
Credit: Daryl Wesley. Dr Vladimir Levchenko taking micro photographs of the oxalate crust at one of the the sites.
Microphoto captures crystal growth over the ochre pigment sample RLL More information: Tristen Jones et al. DOI: This document is subject to copyright.
Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. Gwion art depicts elaborately garbed human figures and objects such as boomerangs and spears.
Wasp nests provide the key to dating 12,year-old Aboriginal rock art The technique involved dating mud wasp nest remnants found both beneath and on top of the paint. History/Chronology of Oldest Known Aboriginal Art. Here is a small selection of the oldest art in Australia. As stated above, it is quite possible that new discoveries will be made of even earlier art dating back to 40, BCE. Ubirr Aboriginal Rock Art (c, BCE) Arnhem Land, Northern Australia. Many people will be forgiven for thinking that Australia has some of the oldest rock art in the world, but the truth there is no reliable dating to show this.
Most radiocarbon dates from the mud wasp nests indicate the Gwion figures were painted around 12, years ago, at least 5, years later than typically thought, the scientists report February 5 in Science Advances. Radiocarbon evidence from a nest partly overlying one of the paintings, however, suggests it was, in fact, created about 17, years ago or more, they say. That investigation dated the time since quartz particles in a mud wasp nest overlying a Gwion figure were last exposed to sunlight.
But some rock art researchers disagree about whether that age estimate was accurate. Radiocarbon dating of mud wasp nest remains needs to be combined with other rock art dating approaches, including the method from the study, to evaluate additional Gwion paintings, says archaeologist June Ross of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.
Once securely dated, Gwion art will provide insights into ancient Aboriginal cultural practices and social life, predicts Ross, who did not participate in the new study. Not a subscriber? Become one now. Skip to content.