SYDNEY — Aboriginal rock art found in remote Australia has been dated at 28,000 years old, experts said Monday, prompting new speculation that indigenous communities were among the world's most advanced.

Archaeologists picked up the fragment in inaccessible wilderness in Arnhem Land in the country's north a year ago, and recent carbon dating of its charcoal drawing has placed it among some of the oldest art on the planet.

"One of the things that makes this little fragment of art unique is that it is drawn in charcoal... which means we could directly date it," said Bryce Barker, who found and first analysed the granite rock.

Barker said given it was one of the oldest known pieces of rock art on earth, it showed that Aboriginal people were responsible for some of the earliest examples.

Barker said the find ranks among rock art sites such as France's Chauvet caves dated at older than 30,000 years and caves in northern Spain now thought to be 40,000 years old.

"The fact remains that any rock art that is older than 20,000 years is very unique around the world," said Barker, a professor at the University of Southern Queensland.

"So it makes this amongst some of the oldest art in the world.

"And we're convinced that we'll find older and the reason is that the site this comes from, we know that Aboriginal people started using this site 45,000 years ago."

The find was made at a massive rock shelter named Narwala Gabarnmang, which is covered on its ceiling and pillars with rock art, and only accessible by a 90 minute helicopter journey from the outback town of Katherine.

Archaeologists were first taken to the site five years ago by its Aboriginal custodians, the Jawoyn, who wanted to preserve the art and at the same time unlock some of the secrets of its history.

"We've only excavated a tiny fraction of the site and we expect there will be art older than 28,000 years in the site," Barker said.

He added that the fragment, which likely fell from the rock's ceiling shortly after it was drawn and therefore preserved in the soil, could have been part of a human figure drawn in action, such as throwing a spear.

Aboriginal rock art is dotted throughout the vast nation, much of it undocumented, and some have speculated that the images could date back 45,000 years.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved

More art has been found at the site in Arnhem Land (AFP/File, Bryce Barker)

This University of Southern Queensland handout photo received on June 18, 2012 shows Professor Bryce Barker from the University of Southern Queensland working at a remote Aboriginal rock art site in Arnhem land in Australia’s Northern Territory where a fragment of charcoal rock art firmly dated to 28,000 years old has been found. – AFP

The 28,000-year-old piece of rock charcoal art (AFP/File, BRYCE BARKER)

This photo shows detail of the 'Panel of Hands', El Castillo Cave showing red disks and hand stencils made by blowing or spitting paint onto the wall. (Pedro Saura, AAAS, AP)

Responses to "28,000 years old Aboriginal rock art found in Australia"

  1. Crys McKinley says:

    The hand prints remind me of Playa de Carmen,I hope I got that correct) in Mexico. It's a Mayan site.

  2. Hope this will put the brakes on mining of the ancient landscape of Australia... If archeologists have only just discovered this work, I wonder what has been, and is being overlooked...

  3. Unknown says:

    Very interesting proud of my culture and my skin colour bless to be an aboriginal indigenous woman

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