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.
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.
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. 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.”