A team of researchers found a rock art inside a large cave in northwestern Australia’s remote Kimberley region dating back to 16,000 years ago. The piece of art, which is an elongated, yam-shaped painting, indicates that rock art came to Australia earlier than previously thought.

The findings reported in the journal PLOS ONE involved dating wasp nests, found on top of the rock art, using the technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). The researchers explain the nests were the only material they could use and analyze when the nests got exposed to the sunlight the last time.

Based on this, they estimated that the art is as old as 16,000 years. Previously, it was assumed that all rock art in Kimberley is younger than 10,000 years.

Apparently, these rock art shed light into how indigenous cultures developed over time. According to experts, the style changes through time, and inhabitants of the area produce artwork with different reasons at different times and places.

This old rock art is actually one of the few drawings and paintings in Australia that are older than assumed. However, many experts still contest this claim. Among these is a human-like figure in Kimberley that date back 16,400 years ago, a date that is still inaccurate to some.

The human-like figure was also studied using the same technique as the latest discovery. Four other pieces of rock art in Kimberley have also been determined to date back thousands of years ago using remains of the nests and beeswax stuck to paintings.

Twenty members of the Aboriginal community helped the research team in their investigation.  The members watched over the team as they extracted the materials they need to ensure that the art was not damaged.

The rock art found scattered all over Australia are expected to bring in visitors from around the world. According to Cathy Goonack, Chair of the Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation, they can teach people of their culture and at the same time preserve their history in art.