A cave of Aboriginal paintings chanced upon by a hiker was described yesterday as one of the most significant finds of indigenous rock art for half a century.
The cave contains some 200 paintings, many of them thought to be 4,000 years old. It was found in a remote part of Wollemi National Park, north-west of Sydney. The bushwalker is thought to have been the first person to lay eyes on them since the last Aborigine left his or her mark there 200 years ago.
The exact location of the site - a rock shelter 12m long, 6m deep and 1m to 2m high - is being kept secret. Paul Tacon, an anthropologist, said there were 11 layers of more than 200 paintings, stencils and prints in different styles, spanning a period from about 2000BC to the early 1800s. They feature humans and godlike human-animal composites, as well as realistic and symbolic depictions of birds, lizards and marsupials, Mr Tacon said. The paintings include life-size, delicately drawn eagles and kangaroos, and an extremely rare depiction of a wombat.
"This is the most significant discovery in the greater Sydney region in probably about 50 years," he said. "It's like a place that time forgot."
The cave was discovered in 1995, but was so inaccessible that a research team was unable to investigate it properly until May this year. Its existence was announced yesterday by Bob Carr, the New South Wales premier, who told parliament that it was "a remarkable, remarkable find".
Mr Carr said: "This reminds us that 4,000 years ago - when you had civilisation flourishing in Mesopotamia, when you had the power of Egypt, before China was united, while Stonehenge was being built - we had Aboriginal people in these lands, on the outskirts of the Sydney basin."
A local Aboriginal representative, Dave Pross, said: "It shows our traditional practices, where we were," he said. "We're just trying to get the history of it and look after it."
Mr Tacon, of the Australian Museum, said: "We've never seen anything quite like this combination of rare representations in so many layers. The superimposed layers in various colours such as red, yellow, white and charcoal black are in pristine condition."Reuse content