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The Oldest Art in the World

Updated on December 14, 2014

Ancient Rock Art of the Burrup

There are more than a million rock engravings in the Burrup Peninsula

On the West Pilbara Coast of Western Australia, you find the highest concentration of ancient rock art in the world, and I really mean ancient

Some petroglyphs have been dated as 30,000 years old, with others even older. The newest were carved ten thousand years ago.

You've never heard of them? I'm not surprised.

Art from before the Ice Age

The Human Heritage of Rock Art

You've heard of the ancient art in Lascaux.

Unknown artists created glorious rock art, some as far back as 18,000 years ago in these caves in the south of France. Their work is a testament to the heritage of humanity we all share.

These beautiful depictions of animals have been extensively studied. It's been said that the figures could be prehistoric star maps, painted on cave walls which are illuminated at the Winter Solstice. Some researchers believe the art to be of a spiritual nature, made by people in an hallucinatory trance-like state. Or perhaps they're records of past hunting successes, images to bring luck in the future.

Whatever they are, they are admired the world over.

A very different approach from the ancient art of Western Australia.

The Pilbara Region

The Pilbara is a huge, dry region, roughly 5,800 kilometres ( 316,000 miles)

It's very hot here. In Summer, temperatures over 45 C (113 F) are not uncommon, with torrential rainfall between November and May. It's not really the most comfortable place to live.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, the Aboriginal peoples lived a sustainable life style across the Pilbara with strict land-use management practices.

Things changed when the Europeans arrived. The red earth signaled the enormous iron ore deposits and the economy of the West is now based on mining and petroleum.

Industry. Profit. The reasons for the disrespect shown to the oldest art in the world.

University of Queensland

Ancient Rock Art in Australia

The spectacular art is a wonder of Aboriginal Australian heritage.

Many Figures, Human, Animal and Spirit

An immense port is planned for the Burrup to serve the iron ore industry

Depictions of Animals

At least 10,000 petroglyphs have already been destroyed

International 'Stand Up for the Burrup' Campaign

Click thumbnail to view full-size

What's your view on the Burrup?

Should the ancient art be protected?

Did you know about the Burrup?

Have you ever heard of these ancient rock carvings in Australia?

See results

© 2013 Susanna Duffy

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    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      3 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Goodness, what an outrage! Certainly should consider a UNESCO Heritage site to protec the art.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Isn't there some way to stop this destruction?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      How can Australians, or anyone else, stand by and watch this barbarism?

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      We had the privilege of seeing some rock art near Darwin. It worried me that it was so exposed and vulnerable to vandals. I hope all of it gets documented and hopefully preserved.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Oh wow, this has certainly been a fascinating read. I sure hope that the Rock Art of the Burrup is protected.


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