The Kimberley Rock Art Dating Project
Physics South Building
The Kimberley contains some of the greatest concentrations of indigenous rock art in the world with innumerable sites showing figurative and engraved art of extraordinary richness and beauty. These sites are of great cultural significance to the Traditional Owners, and also of enormous scientific interest, particularly where they can be dated. The Kimberley Rock Art Dating Project, which began in 2014, is a major collaboration involving Traditional Owners and scientists from four research institutions across Australia and is supported by the Kimberley Foundation Australia and the Australian Research Council. The project is uniquely focussed on developing a deep time framework in which to better understand the art and the people who have lived in this vast region from the Pleistocene period to the present. Dating rock art is extremely challenging and most pigments used are devoid of datable constituents. However, bracketing ages can be obtained by dating natural materials that have formed in association with the different rock art styles, and four independent dating methods have now been successfully adapted to this purpose. These include cosmogenic radionuclide dating of rock falls and other landscape evolution processes, radiocarbon dating of organic constituents within mud wasp nests and oxalate mineral layers, optically stimulated luminescence dating of large mud wasp nests, and uranium-series disequilibrium dating of surface mineral accretions. In addition to dating, the project is also providing insights into natural changes to rock surfaces that lead to degradation of the rock art over long periods of time. In this way the project will also help inform future strategies aimed at conservation and preservation of this important part of our national indigenous heritage.
Professor Andrew Gleadow, University of Melbourne