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Tue Feb 23, 2021, 03:19 AM

Australia's oldest rock painting is an anatomically accurate kangaroo

By Mindy Weisberger - Senior Writer 14 hours ago

An unusual dating method revealed the painting's age.

A montage of 39 photographs of the 17,300 year old kangaroo, next to an illustration of the painting. (Image credit: Peter Veth, Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation/Illustration: Pauline Heaney and Damien Finch)

A nearly-life-size depiction of a kangaroo realistic genitalia included is the oldest known rock painting in Australia. Scientists recently pinpointed its age to 17,300 years ago with a technique that had never been used on Australian ancient art before: measuring radioactive carbon in wasp nests from rocks near the artwork.

The kangaroo painting extends across the ceiling of a rock shelter and spans nearly 7 feet (2 meters), which is roughly the height of a modern kangaroo. This and other paintings in northwestern Australia's Kimberley region share certain stylistic features with the earliest cave art from Europe and Asia, the researchers reported. Very old animal paintings such as these are typically life-size (or close to it); they represent anatomy in a similar way, and their outlines are only partly filled-in with sketched lines. Because of these features, the paintings were thought to be among Australia's oldest.

However, to precisely date such art, scientists often turn to radiocarbon dating, which measures the ratio of different versions, or isotopes, of carbon in an object. But it requires organic material, which is scarce in rock paintings.

In places such as the Chauvet Cave in France, ancient drawings are etched in charcoal and hidden deep inside limestone caverns, preserving the organic matter in the charcoal pigments and making radiocarbon dating possible. Chauvet art has been directly dated to between 34,000 and 29,000 years ago, the study authors wrote.


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