A group of Australian researchers have been working with Aboriginal Traditional Owners in Kandiwal and Kalumburu, in the northwest Kimberley (WA), to analyse art in over 200 sites.Rock art in the Kimberley was thought to be no older than about 10,000 years.“We’re really happy to suggest we do have evidence that the art is of ice age – it is 16,000 [years old],” says Macquarie University geochronologist Dr Kira Westaway.Their results were published last month in “Dating rock art is very difficult,” says archaeologist Dr June Ross from the University of New England.Uranium Series dating proved unsuccessful on the art, due to contamination.Carbon dating also failed, as the paintings didn’t contain any organic materials.
“We don’t know how long it was between the time the painting was painted, and the time the wasps came along,” says Ross.
“But a wasp very conveniently built this little time capsule on top of this painting, and they built that 16,000 years ago.” By analysing the age and style of rock art, the researchers have been able to paint a clearer picture of how Indigenous cultures developed.
“The style of the art changes through time,” says Ross.
“People produce art for different reasons at different times and in different places.” “We found that the Wanjina period, which is the period that’s particularly relevant to Aboriginal people today, began earlier than we had expected,” Ross explains.
Wanjina-style motifs dated to about 5000 years ago – over a thousand years earlier than previously thought.