Archaeologists working at Nawarla Gabarmang, an ancient aboriginal site in the Northern territory have discovered rock art dated 28,000 years old. The image, which is one of thousands to be found in the rock shelter, is the oldest in Australia and among the oldest such drawings in the world. The cave, whose ceiling is replete with these images, has been dubbed the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of rock art sites and is estimated to have been first inhabited 45,000 years ago.
The image in question was found on a fragment of rock found last year by Professor Bryce Parker, an archaeologist at the University of Southern Queensland, “It’s the oldest unequivocally dated rock art in Australia and among the oldest in the world,” Barker said.
The cave complex is situated deep in Australia’s outback, only accessible by a 90 minute helicopter ride from Katherine. Archaeologists were first taken to the site five years ago by its Aboriginal custodians, the Jawoyn, who wanted to preserve the art and at the same time unlock some of the secrets of its history.
Professor Barker said the site also has evidence of the earliest human use of edge ground axes at 35,000 years ago — a stone tool technology not developed elsewhere in the world until much later.
He added that the fragment fell from the cave’s ceiling shortly after it was drawn and was thus preserved in the soil, could have been part of a human figure drawn in action, such as throwing a spear.
Through the project work researchers have learned that human occupation of the Narwala Gabarnmang site dates back to 45,000 years ago, making it one of the earliest human occupation sites in Australia.
Professor Barker anticipates further discoveries,“We’ve only excavated a tiny fraction of the site and we expect there will be art older than 28,000 years in the site.”