Kiwi who found world's oldest painting says more to come

Ancient rock art discovered in the Northern Territory of Australia by Professor Bryce Barker (above).
Ancient rock art discovered in the Northern Territory of Australia by Professor Bryce Barker (above).

A New Zealand archaeologist who found one of the world's oldest examples of rock art in a remote part of the Northern Territory says there could be even older pieces nearby.

The University of Southern Queensland's Bryce Barker, originally from Kerikeri, worked with a team of Australian and French archaeologists and found rock art in Arnhem Land carbon-dated to be at least 28,000 years old.

Professor Barker says humans occupied the site as far back as 45,000 years ago and a 35,000-year-old stone axe was found close by.

He says they are signs that even older pieces of rock art can be found at the remote Narwala Gabarnmang site, which is accessible only by helicopter.

"We hope to find more art in the excavations and perhaps extend the age of the art," Prof Barker told AAP today.

"We've got an occupation there of 45,000 (years ago) so were they painting art that early?

"Those are some of the questions we'll be asking in the future."

While the latest rock art to be found at the site is the oldest in Australia, earlier pieces have been dated back to 36,000 years ago in France and 40,000 years ago in northern Spain.

Prof Barker said he knew the find was old when it was discovered last year, but did not realise how old until it was carbon-dated at New Zealand's University of Waikato.

He said the team was only three years into a five-year dig in the area, considered the "Sistine Chapel" of rock art sites, so he was hopeful of uncovering more.

"There are depictions of everything from fish, kangaroos, all the animals that they ate, crocodiles, dingoes to people, mythical figures, you name it, it's there," he said.

Prof Barker said the research team was put together by members of the local indigenous population, the Jawoyn Association, so they could use science to complement oral history of their culture.

- AAP

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