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Scientists discovered that the kangaroo painted more than 17,000 years ago is Australia’s oldest rock painting



According to scientists, in Western Australia, a painting of a kangaroo is the oldest rock painting in the country. They say that radiocarbon dating analysis shows that it was created 17,000 years ago.

The portrait of a kangaroo is one of many rock paintings first recorded by researchers in the Kimberley area in the 1990s, which has one of the largest collections of indigenous rock art in the world. Scientists from several universities and research institutions worked with local indigenous leaders to analyze these paintings, and their findings were published in the journal Natural Human Behavior on Monday.

The artwork painted on the rock is the earliest recorded attempt at human communication, and some of the oldest animal illustrations appear on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. However, it turns out that dating paintings older than 6000 years is a challenge because it is difficult to find organic materials in paint pigments (which is essential for radiocarbon dating).
Therefore, the Australian team switched to using the Wasp Nest.
A rare depiction of characters in Kimberley’s oldest painting style.

A rare depiction of characters in Kimberley’s oldest painting style. credit: Pauline Heaney and Damien Finch

They found that on and under 16 different petroglyphs, they found the remains of 27 ancient wasp nests-which can be marked with radiocarbon.

The strategy is simple: if the nest is built on top of the rock artwork, the artwork must be older. If the artwork is built on a nest, the nest must be older. Therefore, dating these nests can provide scientists with the minimum and maximum ages for petroglyphs.

The main source of carbon in these nests is charcoal chips, and part of the source of these carbon is mud. Forest fires frequently occur in this area, which burns down short-lived vegetation such as grass, so most nests contain relatively new charcoal when they are built.

Ancient nests usually also contain plant material or insect fragments, which are collected as larvae foraging for food, and they all contain carbon.

A painting of a snake is on the wall of Kimberley's Rock Refuge, and there are many other paintings on it.

A painting of a snake is on the wall of Kimberley’s Rock Refuge, and there are many other paintings on it. credit: Pauline Heaney and Damien Finch

By dating the wasp nest, the authors of the study determined that most of the paintings were created between 17,000 and 13,000 years ago. Some of the oldest paintings include photos of boomerangs and rare portraits of people leaning on their backs. Others depicted animals, including snakes, lizard-shaped figures, and three macropod-marsupial families, including kangaroos, wallabies, and cynos.

The history of kangaroo painting can be traced back to 17,100 to 17,500 years ago. It was painted on the sloped ceiling of a rock bunker, where there are thousands of fossilized mud honeycombs.

The researchers wrote: “Before determining the full time frame of the paintings that are still visible today, more dates for this period are needed.”

This research is part of a larger interdisciplinary Kimberley rock art dating project, which uses several different techniques to study the evolution of rock art and natural landscapes.

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