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The First Australians Were Among the World’s First Artists

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Researchers have dated what may be the longest, most impressive rock art sequence found anywhere in the world, in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia, and believe it could potentially challenge Western Europe as the site of the world’s earliest rock art.

Dr June Ross of The University of New England says the discovery, along with the emergence of rock art in Sulawesi around 39,000 years ago, shows that humans with sophisticated artistic skills settled along the northern coastline as early as 36,000 years ago.

Ross worked alongside researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong, as well as Aboriginal traditional owners based in Kandiwal and Kalumburu. Focused on the rugged Lawley and Mitchell river basins, team members recorded more than 200 sites over a 3-year period. The research has been published in PLOS One (

The researchers trialled three different dating techniques on a range of rock art styles with kangaroo and yam-style motifs. The most successful technique proved to be optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), which was applied to the sand grains within mud wasp nests that adhered to many of the art motifs and became fossilised over time.

As OSL measures the period of time since the grain of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.