31 May 2010

Rock painting may be 40,000 years old

1:58 pm on 31 May 2010

Archaelogists say they have uncovered a rock painting in Australia's Northern Territory that could be up to 40,000 years old.

The red ochre painting, which depicts two emu-like birds with their necks outstretched, could date back to the earliest days of settlement on the continent.

The ABC reports that it was rediscovered at the centre of the Arnhem Land plateau about two years ago, but that archaeologists first visited the site a fortnight ago.

A palaeontologist has now confirmed that the animals depicted are the megafauna species Genyornis - which became extinct more than 40,000 years ago.

Painter 'must have had direct contact'

Archaeologist Ben Gunn says the physical characteristics detailed in the art indicate it was painted by someone who had direct contact with the animal.

"Either the painting is 40,000 years old, which is when science thinks Genyornis disappeared, or alternatively the Genyornis lived a lot longer than science has been able to establish."

Mr Gunn says there are paintings of other extinct animals right across the area including the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, the giant echidna and the giant kangaroo.