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"Rock art is notoriously difficult to date," says David.
"Most pigment art contains no dateable carbon, and therefore radiocarbon dating is usually not feasible." What is known as the oldest rock art in the world - cave paintings in Indonesia and Spain — was dated using a more complex method that measures the age of a microscopic layer of minerals deposited after the art is created. Instead of measuring the decay of radioactive carbon, this method relies on measuring the decay of uranium in the microscopic layer to provide a minimum age for the art.
With the help of new physical and chemical dating methods, scientists are finally beginning to discover how and when archaic species became…
well, us.‘The great breakthrough in Quaternary archaeology was radiocarbon dating,’ Walker says.
Pillans, who studies the Burrup rock engravings, describes the giant bird painting on the Arnhem Land plateau as a "hint of older rock art".
Some researchers say the creature looks like Genyornis which is believed to have gone extinct at least 40,000 years ago.
"You often hear people talk about the oldest continuous culture in the world being Aboriginal culture," says geologist Professor Brad Pillans of the Australian National University.
"And there are very few people doing research on rock art." David says there are hand stencils in some limestone caves in North Queensland that are believed to be more than 30,000 years old, and he hopes to be involved in dating these in the future.Not only did this protect the artwork from the elements, but it also provided a good environment for the production of these dateable layers."Australia doesn't have much art in deep limestone caves," says David.Based at the University of Wales Trinity St David, he has devoted his career to studying the Quaternary period – the last 2.6 million years and the so-called ‘age of humans’.