Ages for Australia’s oldest rock paintings

Damien Finch, Andrew Gleadow, Janet Hergt, Pauline Heaney, Helen Green, Cecilia Myers, Peter Veth, Sam Harper, Sven Ouzman, Vladimir Levchenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Naturalistic depictions of animals are a common subject for the world’s oldest dated rock art, including wild bovids in Indonesia and lions in France’s Chauvet Cave. The oldest known Australian Aboriginal figurative rock paintings also commonly depict naturalistic animals but, until now, quantitative dating was lacking. Here, we present 27 radiocarbon dates on mud wasp nests that constrain the ages of 16 motifs from this earliest known phase of rock painting in the Australian Kimberley region. These initial results suggest that paintings in this style proliferated between 17,000 and 13,000 years ago. Notably, one painting of a kangaroo is securely dated to between 17,500 and 17,100 years on the basis of the ages of three overlying and three underlying wasp nests. This is the oldest radiometrically dated in situ rock painting so far reported in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-318
Number of pages9
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Cite this