The Gwion Gwion paintings were created by the ancestors of the Balanggarra people. (Mark Jones)
Original Published Date: 
Thursday, February 13, 2020

Full article issued by The University of Western Australia and The University of Melbourne.

ARC-supported archaeologists at The University of Western Australia (UWA) are part of a national team of researchers that has been able to more accurately date a significant number of the Kimberley’s most remarkable ancient rock art to more than 10,000 years ago.

In a landmark paper published in Science Advances, the age of the Gwion Gwion rock art in the East Kimberley is determined to be around 12,000 years old.

Professor Peter Veth, Director of UWA’s Oceans Institute and one of the project’s chief investigators, said the Kimberley region of Western Australia hosted thousands of rock art sites with some earlier depictions in a remarkably good state of preservation.

“They provide a window into how Aboriginal people thought and lived in a socially and environmentally dynamic world and are of great significance to Kimberley Traditional Owners today,” Professor Veth said.

“One of the best known styles showing human figures with complex headdress and body ornaments is the Gwion Gwion. Formerly known as ‘Bradshaws’, their extraordinary detail challenged European observers and led to more than a century of speculation about their age and authorship.”

The research team's dating of carbon found in mud wasp nests under and overlying Gwion Gwion images has produced a remarkably consistent suite of dates clustering around 12,000 years ago (11.500-12,700 years ago) with one motif however dating to approximately 17,000 years.

The dates have been produced as part of an ARC Linkage Project—'Dating the Aboriginal rock art sequence of the Kimberley in NW Australia', led by the University of Melbourne and working in partnership with Balanggarra and other Aboriginal Corporations.

Photo credit: 

The Gwion Gwion paintings were created by the ancestors of the Balanggarra people. Credit: Mark Jones.