The Kimberley region of Western Australia is home to one of the largest collections of indigenous rock art in the world. And there is also the oldest stone drawing identified in the country. It’s about the painting of a kangaroo that was created more than 17 million years agos, according to a study carried out by scientists from various universities and research agencies, together with local indigenous leaders.
Dating paintings that are over 6,000 years old is a real challenge because the organic material in pigment of the painting, crucial for radiocarbon dating, is difficult to find. For this reason, a team from the University of Melbourne (Australia) used the radiocarbon dating of 27 potter wasp nests (Eumeninae) collected above and below 16 similar paintings belonging to the earliest stylistic period. The findings, published in Nature Human Behavior, revealed that the painting of this two-meter kangaroo is between 17,1000 and 17,500 years old. It is drawn on the sloping roof of a rock shelter on an Unghango clan estate, located in the Balanggarra indigenous protected area.
Animal paintings have always been very common
The rock paintings represent some of the earliest known attempts at human communication, with some of the earliest examples of animal depictions found in Sulawesi, Indonesia. “Naturalistic depictions of animals are a common theme for the world’s oldest dated rock art, including wild bovidae in Indonesia and lions in Chauvet cave in France. The oldest known Australian aboriginal figurative rock paintings also often depict naturalistic animals, ”the authors of this study explain.
Despite the difficulty of analyzing, the researchers found that some paintings preserved traces of ancient wasp nests, made partly of clay, whose main source of carbon is carbon fragments. Thanks to the dating of these nests, the authors established that the paintings made with this pigment have between 17,000 and 13,000 years of antiguaty. Following the trend of the time, most of these images were representations of animals: a snake, a figure resembling a lizard and three macropods, a family of marsupials that includes kangaroos, wallabies, and quokkas. However, some of the older paintings also included an image of a Boomerang and a rare representation of a human figure lying on his back.
“Many more dates from this period are required before the full chronological extent of the paintings can be determined.. These are the first results to show that Australian naturalistic paintings date back to the last ice age, so there are certainly older paintings that have not yet been registered or dated ”, concludes in a statement Dr. Damien Finch, a pioneer in the use of this new dating technique.