First reliable radiocarbon dates for Australian Aboriginal rock art

Aboriginal Rock Art, Kakadu National Park, Australia. © Thomas Schoch, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

CANBERRA - A team of researchers from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Australian National University (ANU) have developed a new technique that will, for the first time, allow a more precise dating of Australian Aboriginal rock art.
The technique is a form of radiocarbon dating already widely used in archaeology but until now not very successful on these type of paintings. Aboriginal rock art in fact uses primarily ochre, an inorganic mineral pigment and no carbon-based pigments. This technique focuses on a superficial layer of calcium oxalate present on the surface of the paintings. By dating this layer, it is possible to produce an upper and lower limit of dates. The paintings belong to a regional art style known as Northern Running Figures (NRF), or Mountford Figures, believed to have been created in Australia during the early to mid-Holocene (10,000 – 6,000 years ago).
Lead author of the paper announcing the development Tristen Jones, a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University said: “The results are exciting as although they generally support the chronology and assumed antiquity for the NRF art style, they provide minimum ages which suggest that the art style is actually a few thousand years older than what was anticipated, they also demonstrate that the art style was painted over a considerably long period. Most excitingly the results also provide the chronometric data to support a Pleistocene antiquity for the earliest known figurative art styles, such as Dynamic Figures, in Arnhem Land.”
For more information on this research please visit:
http://www.ansto.gov.au/AboutANSTO/MediaCentre/News/ACS112993