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Ancient Australian Rock Art Could Be 40,000 Years Old

This undated archaeologist Ben Gunn handout photo received on May 31, 2010 shows an Aboriginal rock painting found in Australia's Arnhem Land; The red ochre painting shows two emu-like birds with their necks outstretched which are believed to show the meg

A painting of two extinct birds found in northern Australia is believed to be one of the oldest pieces of rock art ever discovered. Scientists believe the image found on a remote plateau in the Northern Territory could be up to 40,000 years old.

The painting shows two giant birds that resemble a genyornis, an ancient flightless creature that is believed to have become extinct in Australia more than 40,000 years ago.

If it was painted at a time when this mega fauna was still alive, as some experts believe, then it would be among the oldest pieces of rock art ever found.

Depicted in red ochre, the painting was discovered under a sandstone ledge in Arnhem Land east of Darwin, where ancient indigenous artistic traditions began. It was found by Aborigines two years ago, but due to its remote location has only now been surveyed by scientists.

It has been examined by archaeologist Ben Gunn has examined the artifact. He says if its age is confirmed, it would be a monumental discovery.

"It would make it more than twice the age of any other painting in Australia that has been tentatively identified," he said. "So, the scale of survival of this painting would be enormous compared to most of the art we are looking at. Yes, it is quite mind blowing."

The remote site will be carefully excavated and tested to try to establish exactly how old the painting is. There are doubts in certain quarters that the ochre-stained art work could have survived the harsh, tropical conditions of northern Australia for 40,000 years.

Archaeologists, though, have been energized by the Arnhem Land discovery and believe there could be hundreds of thousands of other Aboriginal rock art paintings still hidden away across the country.

It is though Aborigines began inhabiting Australia between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago.

Art is one of the key ingredients in indigenous culture. Through paintings and artifacts, traditional stories and customs have been maintained over thousands of years. In more modern times, paintings from the tribes of the central desert have provided economic salvation for impoverished communities.

Aborigines make up about two percent of Australia's population but suffer disproportionately high rates of poverty, ill health and imprisonment.