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Asia Minute: Australia’s Oldest Rock Art

Herbert Bieser from Pixabay

Here’s a news story that goes back tens of thousands of years. It’s about a development this week involving an indigenous culture in the Asia Pacific, a rock painting, and a kangaroo.

It turns out the oldest known example of rock art in Australia is a painting of a kangaroo, and scientists say it’s more than 17,000 years old.

The likeness was painted in mulberry on the ceiling of a rock shelter in the Drysdale River National Park in the Kimberly region of West Australia — tucked into the upper northwest corner of the country, not far from the border with the Northern Territory.

It’s a district that’s known for Aboriginal paintings on rocks and in caves. And the news this week wasn’t about the discovery of this image — it was about its age with researchers publishing details in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The key to the dating of the art: mud wasps.

More specifically, it’s mud wasp nests, which contain charcoal from ancient bush fires. And that carbon residue clears the way for the use of carbon dating techniques.

Researchers used wasp nests above and below the painting to calculate an age range, which they put at between 17,100 and 17,500 years.

These are the oldest rock paintings found in Australia so far.

Scientists believe older examples may exist with possible connections to other rock art in Southeast Asia — including parts of Indonesia.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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