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3 October 2016
'World's earliest rock art' in Western Australia

A three year project documenting, analysing, and dating more than 200 rock art sites in the northwest Kimberley region of Western Australia has identified what may be the longest, most impressive rock art sequence anywhere in the world, challenging Western Europe as the location for the production of the world's earliest rock art.
     Lead author and University of New England archaeologist Doctor June Ross says the new timeline for the beginning of rock art in Sulawesi in Indonesia around 39,000 years ago, together with evidence from excavations in Kimberley show that humans with sophisticated artistic skills settled along the northern coastline as early as 36,000 years ago.
     Doctor Ross says that: "Our results demonstrate that at least some phases of Kimberley art are of great antiquity - and may date to a time when sea levels were lower, the continent was much larger and environmental conditions were more challenging - perhaps the oldest art is now submerged off the Kimberley coastline."
     Using optically-stimulated luminescence applied to sand grains found within mud wasp nests, researchers were able to date when the artwork was created. Geochronologist Kira Westaway from Macquarie University says mud wasps stuck their nests onto many of the art motifs, and these became fossilised over time: "They build nests on top of the art using grains of sand that can be used for dating without damaging the art itself."
     Cathy Goonack, Chair of the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, said the rock art brings visitors from all around the world to the Mitchell Plateau. "They want to look at our art and hear our stories; now we've got a good science story that we can tell people as well. We'll also use this information to help us look after our art," she said.

Edited from Perth Now (31 August 2016)

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