World’s Oldest Rock Art Found in Australia 27 Jun 12

Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing on earth left to discover, but in reality there are people with some really cool jobs discovering new things all the time. Just recently, Bryce Barker, a University of Southern Queensland archaeologist, found rock art dating back 28,000 years! The piece is older than any other rock art found in Australia, and it is one of the oldest ever found in the world.

Where’d He Find it?

Barker found the rock in the Narwarla Gabarnmang rock shelter located in the Northern Territory of Australia, and although he uncovered it in June of last year, he only recently had it dated at New Zealand’s University of Waikato radiocarbon laboratory.

Why is it Unique?

Besides its age, the rock art is unique because it was made with charcoal as opposed to the usual mineral paint. Charcoal is much easier to carbon date, so its age is much easier to measure than art made with other materials. This means, according to Barker, that it is “unequivocally” the oldest dated rock art in Australia and one of the oldest in the world.

What’s the Oldest?

Currently, the oldest rock art in the world is found on the cave walls of the El Castillo cave in Spain where archaeologists found hand stencils and red disks designed by blowing paint onto the cave walls. With uranium-thorium dating, scientists were able to date the art as at least 40,800 years old. However, Barker says he has found other evidence that suggests the cave where he discovered the rock art was occupied 45,000 years ago.

It’s widely known that Australia was home to some of earth’s earliest inhabitants, so it is not a surprise to scientists and historians that Barker found such ancient art, but Australian National University archaeologist, Sally May, still finds it “incredibly significant.”

She also stated, “I don’t think it will surprise anyone that rock art is that old in Australia because we know people have been here a lot longer than that and there’s no reason to believe they weren’t producing art.”

If you’d like to learn more about what the archaeologists discovered in Narwarla Gabarnmang, look for the next edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.