After 28,000 years, Australia's first artists get credit for their work at last

 

Sydney

Archaeologists have long known that Australia is home to some of the world's most outstanding and abundant rock art. Now, a chance discovery has revealed that the art is also among the world's oldest – and that when it was created, Aborigines were among the most advanced modern humans.

The discovery was made by Bryce Barker, a member of an international team excavating a remote site in the Arnhem Land region of the Northern Territory.

Examining in his laboratory a sliver of granite, which he had dug up months earlier, Professor Barker noticed it contained finely drawn charcoal lines that were subsequently carbon-dated to 28,000 years ago – making it more than 10,000 years older than the country's previously oldest-known art. The team has already found evidence that the site – a massive rock shelter accessible only by helicopter – was occupied 45,000 years ago.

Professor Barker, from the University of Southern Queensland, believes he and his colleagues will uncover art dating back that far, which would be the world's oldest – surpassing even the cave paintings of El Castillo in northern Spain, recently redated at 40,800 years old.

The charcoal drawing – believed to be part of a "dynamic figure", the oldest known type of rock art in Arnhem Land – also demonstrates that, contrary to popular perception, Aborigines of that era were far from primitive, he said. The archaeologists have found a 35,000-year-old edge-ground axe, a stone tool not developed elsewhere in the world until much later, at the site. "When you put that together with the art and Aborigines' early use of watercraft, you're looking at some of the major first developments in modern human behaviour, and it's all happening here in Australia," Professor Barker said.

Aborigines arrived in Australia from Asia at least 45,000 years ago. Rock art experts believe they began creating paintings and engravings almost immediately. But because the art was in exposed rock shelters, much of the oldest work would have disappeared – unlike in Spain and the caves at Chauvet, in France, where the paintings were preserved underground.

Paul Taçon, one of Australia's leading rock art experts, said ochre sticks dating back more than 40,000 years had been found at numerous sites around the country. The ochre was ground to a powder and used for paint.

"What this new find here and the new dating in Spain highlight is that the potential for making rock art is universal among modern humans," he said. "And it probably originated neither in Australia nor Europe, but in Africa a very long time ago. When people arrived in new places, they immediately began to make themselves at home and to add a cultural stamp to the landscape. These two developments also highlight that we're all basically the same. We have brains that are hard-wired in the same way, and we've been like this for many thousands of years, engaging in the same sorts of behaviour."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power