Projects per year
The recent establishment of a minimum age estimate of 39.9 ka for the origin of rock art in Sulawesi has challenged claims that Western Europe was the locus for the production of the world's earliest art assemblages. Tantalising excavated evidence found across northern Australian suggests that Australia too contains a wealth of ancient art. However, the dating of rock art itself remains the greatest obstacle to be addressed if the significance of Australian assemblages are to be recognised on the world stage. A recent archaeological project in the northwest Kimberley trialled three dating techniques in order to establish chronological markers for the proposed, regional, relative stylistic sequence. Applications using optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) provided nine minimum age estimates for fossilised mudwasp nests overlying a range of rock art styles, while Accelerator Mass Spectrometry radiocarbon (AMS 14C) results provided an additional four. Results confirm that at least one phase of the northwest Kimberley rock art assemblage is Pleistocene in origin. A complete motif located on the ceiling of a rockshelter returned a minimum age estimate of 16 ± 1 ka. Further, our results demonstrate the inherent problems in relying solely on stylistic classifications to order rock art assemblages into temporal sequences. An earlier than expected minimum age estimate for one style and a maximum age estimate for another together illustrate that the Holocene Kimberley rock art sequence is likely to be far more complex than generally accepted with different styles produced contemporaneously well into the last few millennia. It is evident that reliance on techniques that produce minimum age estimates means that many more dating programs will need to be undertaken before the stylistic sequence can be securely dated.