Wasp nests provide the key to dating 12,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art

Enigmatic human figures with elaborate headdresses, arm and waist decorations adorn rock shelters in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This style of art, known as Gwion, Kiro Kiro or Kujon, was painted by the ancestors of today’s traditional owners around 12, years ago, a new study suggests. The date of the art work, published today in the journal Science Advances , is based on radiocarbon dating of mud wasp nests. As the traditional owners used fire to manage their country, the small black and yellow wasp built their time capsules above and below the artworks tucked away in the rock shelters. While most Gwion paintings studied by the team had either had a nest under or over part of the artwork, one painting had two nests on top and one under. The Gwion period, which used to be known as the Bradshaw paintings, is thought by archaeologists to be the second oldest of at least six distinct periods of creative styles depicting stories and songlines passed from generation to generation. I just say ‘I don’t know, it’s just older than me or you,” Mr Waina said. Is it from our older, older, older people?

Dating the aboriginal rock art sequence of the Kimberley in NW Australia

A n angu ranger Mick Starkey pointing out rock art at Mu t itjulu Cave. Photo: Grenville Turner. Read more. The rock art around Ulu r u is evidence of how cultural knowledge and Tjukurpa stories have been passed from generation to generation. This is because the same sites have been used in A n angu education for tens of thousands of years.

Since the mids, scientific dating methods have been used to Around 15, years ago, the archaeological record shows that Aboriginals in the In , rock art depicting what is thought to be a Thylacoleo was.

Aboriginal rock art provides a fascinating record of Australian Aboriginal life over thousands of years. The ancient rock art and engravings depict figures, birds, animals, mythological creatures and non-figurative designs. Sometimes they were painted for religious significance, sorcery and magic, and other times as a way of telling stories and learning, or just for fun and practice. The aboriginal colours used in rock art paintings come from natural occurring minerals. Sometimes, pigments are placed in the mouth and blown out around an object, this is how you get the hand stencil effect which is quite prevalent in some rock art sites.

Wandjina Rock Art from the Kimberleys. In Sydney there are also some fantastic examples of rock engravings. Rock art is still very relevant to Aboriginal people and in many cases it shows cultural objects and activities that are still used and performed to this day. In some instances, rock art is maintained and repainted by the descendants who originally painted them.

Some Indigenous Australians learnt the art of rock painting when they were growing up, and are able to bridge the rock art traditions of their ancestors with contemporary artistic methods — the results are highly innovative and extraordinary! Artworks are displayed solely to aid potential purchasers in making their selection.

Images may not be reproduced for any reason without express permission from the artist.

Wasp nests used to date ancient Kimberley rock art

Kakadu is one of the amazing places to learn about Aboriginal culture and tradition. It boarders Arnhem Land, which is another culturally important site for Aboriginal people in the country. Kakadu is owned by the indigenous people of Australia. At Kakadu, you can also enjoy cultural activities and evening performances. There are a lot of things to involve yourself in as you visit the park and learn about the oldest people who lived on this land. You can find pictures of spirits and people, paintings of wildlife and more.

combination of dating technologies and analysis of very large data sets will change our understanding of Australian Aboriginal rock art found.

It is also one of the reasons Kakadu has received World Heritage status. The paintings provide a fascinating record of Aboriginal life over thousands of years. With paintings up to 20, years old, this is one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. For more information download the Kakadu rock art fact sheet. Show all Hide all.

There are many rock art sites open to the public in Kakadu National Park.

Australian Aboriginal Rock Art

This is no ordinary resource: It includes a fictional story, quizzes, crosswords and even a treasure hunt. Show me how No, thank you. Australian Aboriginal rock art is world famous. Some of the oldest and largest open-air rock art sites in the world include the Burrup Peninsula and the Woodstock Abydos Reserve, both in Western Australia.

In contemporary Aboriginal ontology, rock paintings and engravings are wholly rock art with other archaeological records is the difficulty of dating the art.

The project started back in with funding from the Australian Research Council and is the first-time scientists have been able to date a range of these ancient artworks, which people have been trying to establish for more than 20 years. A combination of the most sophisticated nuclear science and radiocarbon dating and mud wasp nests. Image supplied. Mud wasp nests, which are commonly found in rock shelters in the remote Kimberley region, also occur across northern Australia and are known to survive for tens of thousands of years.

A painting beneath a wasp nest must be older than the nest, and a painting on top of a nest must younger than the nest. If you date enough of the nests you build up a pattern and can narrow down an age range for paintings in a particular style.

First rock art

With the help of some mud wasps, an inventive dating method has revealed that a collection of Aboriginal rock art was created some 12, years ago, with some motifs perhaps dating back to around 17, years ago. Putting a solid date on ancient rock art can often be very tricky. For the new research, the team dated mud wasp nests linked to 21 paintings found at 14 different rock shelters. In 13 of the artworks, the nests lay on top, meaning the paintings are older than the nests.

The antiquity of the Gwion Gwion has been the subject of controversy with the notions of Pleistocene aged rock art and non-Aboriginal authorship popularised.

New approach provides a way to provide dates for challenging Aboriginal rock art that cannot be done with other methods. Mud wasp nests which are commonly found in rock shelters in the remote Kimberley region also occur ubiquitously across northern Australia and can survive for tens of thousands of years.

Mud wasp nests were collected from over rock art sites with the permission and assistance of the Traditional Owners of Balangarra and Dambimangari Lands in the Kimberley. The dates reported in a paper published in Science Advances provide, for the first time, an estimate for the time period when paintings in the Gwion Gwion style proliferated , mostly between 10 to 12, years ago.

This indirect method of dating could be useful in providing age estimates for other evidence of past human activity including grinding hollows, grooves, carvings as well as paintings. To date, it is believed to be the most comprehensive dating of the Gwion Gwion style, which is commonly characterised by elongated human figures wearing adornments. Dr Vladimir Levchenko, an expert in radiocarbon dating and co-author, said one of the dates suggested one Gwion motif was older, at more than 16, years, but further dates will be required to determine if this is an exception or part of an extended period of earlier production.

After extensive refinements of pre-treatment processes and dating both modern and old mud wasp nests, PhD candidate Damien Finch, who developed the methodology, found the best source of carbon in the mud wasps was charcoal.

Ancient Nests of Mud Wasps Used to Date Australian Aboriginal Rock Art

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Aboriginal rock art is the oldest form of indigenous Australian art with the earliest examples discovered at Gabarnmung in Arnhem Land dating.

A momentum of research is building in Australia’s Kimberley region, buoyed by the increasing local and international interest in the rich cultural heritage associated with our first Australians. My research focuses on understanding the complex formation mechanisms associated with mineral accretions forming on the walls and ceilings of rock art shelters. Often found to over and underlie rock paintings and engravings, once characterised, recent advances I have made in the application of radiogenic dating techniques to these accretions, are providing the first opportunity to produce maximum, minimum and bracketing ages for the associated rock art.

These ages are being used to anchor this rock art sequence to an absolute chronology and to integrate it into the emerging archaeological record of colonisation and settlement in northern Australia, increasing our understanding of Australia’s first people and helping to gain recognition for the Kimberley region as a heritage site of international significance. This research has been based around extensive remote fieldwork in the Drysdale and King George River and Doubtful Bay regions of the Kimberley in northern Western Australia, working alongside local traditional owners and pastoral lease holders.

I work in a large research team which includes a range of experts in archaeology and alternative dating techniques such as optically stimulated luminescence and cosmogenic nuclide dating.

Bradshaw rock paintings

Prof Andy Gleadow is confident that a multi-disciplinary approach using a combination of dating technologies and analysis of very large data sets will change our understanding of Australian Aboriginal rock art found in shelters and its relationship to an evolving landscape. The Kimberley Rock Art project involves a large team of researchers with complementary specialties from multiple institutions University of Western Australia , Universities of Wollongong , Melbourne and Manchester , including ANSTO dating specialists, who are working together with the Indigenous Traditional Owners to obtain a chronology for the extraordinary rock art sequence of the Kimberley.

Gleadow said that the Kimberley rock art sequence is characterised by tremendous artistic skill, great abundance and a diversity of painting styles that occur in a relative time sequence that may well span the past 50, years—since the arrival of first Australians.

Professor Peter Veth of the University of WA leads the Kimberley Visions project, involving comparative archaeological documentation and dating of early rock.

December 7, A new technique, developed at ANSTO’s Centre for Accelerator Science, has made it possible to produce some of the first reliable radiocarbon dates for Australian rock art in a study just published online in The Journal of Archaeological Science Reports. The approach involved extracting calcium oxalate from a mineral crust growing on the surface of rock art from sites in western Arnhem Land, according to paper co-author research scientist Dr Vladimir Levchenko, an authority on radiocarbon dating using accelerator mass spectrometry.

Generally speaking, radiocarbon dating cannot readily be used to date Australian indigenous rock art directly, because it is characterised by the use of ochre, an inorganic mineral pigment that contains no carbon. The paper authors explain that carbon found in the mineral crusts on the rock surface was most probably was formed by microorganisms. One of the peer review authors who reviewed the paper prior to publication predicted it could become a benchmark for studies of this type as it addressed a complete lack of chromometric data for rock art in Australia and elsewhere.

Another reviewer called it the most significant rock art and dating paper to have been produced in Australia for over 25 years. The approach has produced an upper and lower limit of dates for a regional art style known as Northern Running Figures NRF or Mountford figures, believed to have been produced in Australia during the early to mid-Holocene 10, — 6, years ago. The limited distribution of the NRF style and its unclear relationship to earlier and later art styles has posed challenges for rock art researchers.

Jones et al report that the minimum age of the NRF rock art style based on the oldest sample is reported to be — BP before present , which also produces a minimum age for other art styles that occur in the ‘Middle Period’ sequence. Jones said “the results are exciting as although they generally support the chronology and assumed antiquity for the NRF art style, they provide minimum ages which suggest that the art style is actually a few thousand years older than what was anticipated.

They also demonstrate that the art style was painted over a considerably long period.

Kimberley rock art dating project

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Older than previously thought. Researchers have found evidence that the rock art in the Kimberley is from the ice age, 16, years old. 2. Cutting-edge dating.

Rock fragment bearing traces of a charcoal drawing, carbon-dated to 26, BCE. Found at the aboriginal rock shelter of Nawarla Gabarnmang in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, is the oldest work of art ever found on the continent of Australia. Hand Stencil Painting. Aboriginal art, Kimberley Region. Handprints and cupules are believed to constitute the oldest forms of aboriginal parietal art in Australia, dating perhaps to 40, BCE. However, this remains unconfirmed by carbon-dating results.

Bradshaws now called Gwion art are among the most sophicated forms of cave painting in Australia. Aboriginal Finger-fluting.

Australian Paleoart

Mud wasp nests have helped establish a date for the Gwion Gwion rock art in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. A typical remnant mud wasp nest A overlying pigment from a Gwion motif before removal and B the remainder with pigment revealed underneath. Image credit: Damien Finch. The rock paintings depict graceful human figures with a wide range of decorations including headdresses, arm bands, and anklets.

Some of the paintings are as small as 15 cm 6 inches , others are more than 2 m 6.

“Rock art is notoriously difficult to date,” says David. “Most pigment art contains no dateable carbon, and therefore radiocarbon dating is usually.

A rock art sequence found in the Kimberley — arguably the longest and most complex in the world — could be much older than previously thought, and may predate ancient rock art in Western Europe. 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 sites.

Photo by Dr June Ross. Source: Supllied. Uranium Series dating proved unsuccessful on the art, due to contamination. The researchers used a method called optically-stimulated luminescence OSL to date ancient wasp nests that had been built on top of the art. By analysing the age and style of rock art, the researchers have been able to paint a clearer picture of how Indigenous cultures developed.

Rare Aboriginal rock art across Sydney and Newcastle (Australia) faces threats


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