The approach has produced an upper and lower limit of dates for a regional art style known as Northern Running Figures (NRF) or Mountford figures, believed to have been produced in Australia during the early to mid-Holocene (10,000 – 6,000 years ago).
The archaeologists suggested the maximum age is likely to be far older.
The new dates were obtained using radiocarbon dating.
Over the decades rock art has proved extremely difficult to directly date.
The limited distribution of the NRF style and its unclear relationship to earlier and later art styles has posed challenges for rock art researchers.
A new dating method finally is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings -- some of the most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures -- into the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric times.
The presentation of the dates will be preceded by a short discussion of the experimental procedure used in our laboratory (pigment sampling, chemical treatment, etc).
What are the different methods used to date such artworks?
This includes inferences based on the archaeological context, such as superpositions of pictorial styles, mainly because of the problem of separating inorganic carbon from the organic material in the pigments.
Here we report on a new technique which allows this separation to be effected by using a low-temperature, low-pressure oxygen plasma to oxidize selectively the organic component; this may then be analysed using standard C methods.
Levchenko, who supervised the radiocarbon dating, collaborated with lead author of the paper, Ms Tristen Jones, a Ph D candidate at the Australian National University (ANU) and co-authors from ANU.
Generally speaking, radiocarbon dating cannot readily be used to date Australian indigenous rock art directly, because it is characterised by the use of ochre, an inorganic mineral pigment that contains no carbon.