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Australia : Rock art researchers at forefront of technology.

Pioneering research into the age and history of Western Australia's Kimberley rock art is putting the ancient drawings into the international science spotlight, Premier Colin Barnett said today.

Addressing some of the world's most pre-eminent scientists and researchers in the field, Mr Barnett said he expected international attention around Kimberley rock art would one day rival cave art in France and Spain, which attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

"The ancient rock art is extremely important not only to WA, but also of major significance to the rest of Australia and the world," he said.

"The Kimberley Rock Art Dating Project currently being undertaken to document and date the Kimberley paintings is using techniques at the forefront of new technology and is widely considered the most innovative rock art project in the world."

The Premier was speaking at a workshop of the Kimberley Foundation Australia's (KFA) Science Advisory Council attended by 48 rock art scientists and researchers held at The University of Western Australia.

A focus of the workshop was on new techniques, which for the first time were allowing scientists to put a date on Kimberley rock art. It had previously been impossible to date because the art was painted with pigments that did not contain carbon, an element required for traditional dating methods.

Scientists are now using technology never before applied to dating rock art. The actual paintings are not dated directly, but a combination of four different dating methods are providing time frames.

"There has been a lot of discussion in making comparisons regarding the antiquity of these Kimberley sites with some of the well-known prehistoric art sites in Europe," Mr Barnett said.

However, Mr Barnett said there were important considerations which set Kimberley rock art apart from those in Europe.

"Firstly, unlike in Europe, Kimberley rock art remains in largely unaltered environments and natural settings. Secondly, WA rock art is of great contemporary cultural significance to the Aboriginal descendants of the artists," he said.

"Indeed, it is still being used by Aboriginal communities to educate young people about tradition and the importance of culture."

The Liberal National Government has provided funding and support to the KFA and other institutions to undertake research into these ancient sites.

In 2010, a $300,000 seed grant to The University of Western Australia for Kimberley rock art research led to the establishment of the Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art. Professor Peter Veth commenced his role as the inaugural chair in February 2013.

The grant enabled KFA to leverage nearly 10 times that amount in research and management funding.

A further $125,000 from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to the KFA was put toward a pilot project in 2011 to develop TAFE recognised modules in Kimberley rock art.

The Liberal National Government's Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy supports research into the Kimberley's rock art to improve knowledge and inform adaptive management of the Kimberley.

The strategy is the largest conservation project ever undertaken in WA, focused on the protection of the Kimberley region through research, on-ground conservation programs and the creation of five new marine parks and a new Kimberley national park, which will be Australia's largest national park.

The strategy is a major Government priority, with an unprecedented investment of more than $103 million.

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Publication:Mena Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 17, 2016
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