FOOT­LOOSE RON MOON

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - RON MOON

It seems Australian sci­en­tists and re­searchers, with the as­sis­tance of Abo­rig­i­nal tra­di­tional own­ers in north­ern West­ern Aus­tralia, are on the verge of re­shap­ing Abo­rig­i­nal his­tory.

For many years the rock art of the Kim­ber­ley and north­ern Aus­tralia has been thought of – by some – as some of the old­est in the world. How­ever, dat­ing tech­niques date the Abo­rig­i­nal art back some 17,500 years ‘Be­fore Present’ (BP). That’s sig­nif­i­cantly younger than the old­est art so far dis­cov­ered and dated at El Castillo in Spain (41,000BP) and the fa­mous horses and cave lions of the Chau­vet Cave in France that carry a 37,000-year-old tag.

Mean­while, in 2014, a dis­cov­ery of rock art in a net­work of caves in Su­lawesi, In­done­sia, re­turned a prob­a­ble date of nearly 40,000 years, shift­ing the fo­cus from Europe to this part of the world.

In the Kim­ber­ley, the two most dis­tinc­tive forms of art are the ac­claimed Wand­jina fig­ures and the much more lively and grace­ful Brad­shaw paint­ings – now of­fi­cially known as Gwion Gwion.

The late Graeme Walsh, a lead­ing re­searcher at Brad­shaws, brought the paint­ings to the at­ten­tion of the world with his in­cred­i­ble work and sub­se­quent books. Graeme was con­vinced the art was at least 35,000 years old.

Be­cause of this re­search (and due to sev­eral other fac­tors) many aca­demics be­lieve mankind reached Aus­tralia ap­prox­i­mately 60,000 years ago – and the lat­est re­search in­di­cates the Kim­ber­ley paint­ings are nearly that old as well. For a graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how mankind spread out of Africa, check out: www. brad­shaw­foun­da­tion.com/jour­ney.

The Kim­ber­ley Foun­da­tion Aus­tralia (KFA) is the driv­ing force be­hind this lat­est study, while its Dat­ing Pro­ject (www.kim­ber­ley­foun­da­tion.org.au/rockart-dat­ing) has been set up to de­ter­mine how old the art in the re­gion is and whether it dates back to Aus­tralia’s very ear­li­est hu­man oc­cu­pa­tion.

The team uses a newly de­vel­oped ura­nium ra­dio-ac­tive de­cay dat­ing method, de­vel­oped by the Australian Nu­clear and Sci­ence Tech­nol­ogy Or­gan­i­sa­tion. This method analy­ses tiny sam­ples of rock crust from below and above the paint­ings and, so far, the re­sults are pretty ex­cit­ing.

The pre­vi­ously used ra­dio­car­bon dat­ing tech­nique wasn’t suit­able for dat­ing paint­ings be­cause of the lack of or­ganic mat­ter in the sam­ples.

If the art is as old as it seems to be, it would mean the rock art of the Kim­ber­ley is the old­est, con­tin­u­ous painted record any­where on Earth. That is pretty bloody amaz­ing. What is equally amaz­ing is the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of some of th­ese sites to wan­der­ing trav­ellers in the Kim­ber­ley. For many four-wheel­ers trav­el­ling in this re­gion of Aus­tralia the an­cient rock art is a ma­jor at­trac­tion, and it’s a great priv­i­lege to be able to see them.

The Wand­jina heads near the King Ed­ward River cross­ing – on the way into the mag­nif­i­cent Mitchell Falls – pro­vides the most sig­nif­i­cant view­ing of this in­cred­i­ble art form, while nearby, with a bit of search­ing, some im­pres­sive Brad­shaws can be found.

Those who wish to see some of the finest rock art in the Kim­ber­ley should con­tact Mount El­iz­a­beth Sta­tion (www. moun­teliz­a­beth­sta­tion.com), where the hosts can ar­range a tour to some more re­mote, spec­tac­u­lar sites.

What­ever the re­sults of the lat­est re­search, the bod­ies of in­cred­i­ble rock art across the top of Aus­tralia are some of the finest in the world and we are ex­tremely for­tu­nate in be­ing able to visit th­ese places and ad­mire the work of those an­cient artists.

More Foot­loose at: www.guide­books.com.au/foot­loose.htm

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