MOTHER TONGUE
Newsletter of the Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory

Issue 25 · Summer 1995


Remarkable Australian Paintings

Only the magnitude of John Yellen's African finds can over-shadow the highly significant but quite controversial proposals by Australian archeologist, Rhys Jones. With new dating techniques and bold assertions about ores and paintings, Jones' new hypothesis is that modern man reached Australia around 60,000 years ago and was able to paint pictures in a very credible way.

In a word -- 'good' art some 30,000 years before Europe's renowned Upper Paleolithic art. (Recently, new cave art in the Chauvet cave in southern France has pushed their dates from 27k to 32k) Those 'primitive' Australians were certainly early (one meaning of primitive) but not so backward (a second meaning of primitive). Now that the Africans of 90,000 years ago were whittling bone and the aboriginal Australians of 60,000 were painting on walls, surely we can harbor a revolutionary notion -- that Europe was actually a backward place for many many millennia after the great human diaspora had begun.

It would seem logically hard to keep the Eurocentric view that our Neanderthal kin were the immediate ancestors of modern people, when, during Neanderthals' heyday in Europe, technologically or culturally more advanced moderns were living in the great tropical realm from Africa to Australia.

Jones' sites, Nauwalabila I and Malakunanja II, both rock shelters in northern Australia, are not new, being known from the 1970s but the dating is new -- 'optical dating' and thermoluminescence.

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(c) 1996 Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory