Photo: Robert Gunn

Rock art found in central Arnhem Land could be among the oldest examples of rock painting in the world - if the birds depicted in the painting prove to be what scientists think they are.  Rock art specialists suspect that the paintings depicted the long-extinct genyornis. The genyornis, a flightless bird which stood three times the height of an emu, was one of many megafauna to became extinct when humans began burning the continent for hunting and land-clearing 40,000 years ago.

Indeed, verification of the age of the paintings would more than double the potential age of painted rock art in Australia. In this respect, rock once attached to the site of the paintings was yet to be dated, however, it is believed that once completed, this would confirm the species depicted.

The paintings showed a thick, rounded beak, which was a characteristic of the genyornis. The painted birds, the largest of which is a metre in height, also feature a crop or a muscular pouch near the throat which forms part of the digestive tract and short, very solid legs.

Certainly, if the image was that of a genyornis it would date the paintings as at least 40,000 years old, making it one of the oldest examples of rock art in the world. It would certainly slightly predate some of the oldest reliably dated rock art of parts of Europe, which go back 30,000 years