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Australia Science

Ancient Cave Art May Depict Giant Bird Extinct For 40,000 Years 137

grrlscientist writes "Recently studied Australian Aboriginal rock art may depict a giant bird that is thought to have become extinct some 40,000 years ago, thereby making it the oldest rock painting on the island continent. The red ochre drawing was first discovered two years ago, but archaeologists were only able to confirm the finding two weeks ago, when they first visited the remote site on the Arnhem Land plateau in north Australia. 'Genyornis was a giant flightless bird that was taller and heavier than either the ostrich or emu. It had powerful legs and tiny wings, and probably closely resembled ducks and geese, its closest living relatives. ... Interestingly, Genyornis bones have been excavated in association with human artifacts in Cuddie Springs in the Australian state of New South Wales. It is likely that humans lived alongside these birds, and some scientists think that humans may have contributed to their extinction." Jamie recalled that in the essay "A Lesson from the Old Masters," in the volume Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, Stephen Jay Gould thanks our ancestors who drew Irish Elk on cave walls for "providing the only possible evidence for a hump that would otherwise have disappeared into the maw of lost history."
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Ancient Cave Art May Depict Giant Bird Extinct For 40,000 Years

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  • by ZERO1ZERO ( 948669 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:39PM (#32409164)
    It's OK! Some scientists think that humans may NOT have contributed to their extinction.

    There tha's better.

  • by BlackBloq ( 702158 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:40PM (#32409176)
    There must most defiantly refer to the venerable Chocobo!I knew it wasn't just a game! Now where did they bury the huge swords?

  • Re:This just in! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Forge ( 2456 ) <kevinforge@nosPaM.gmail.com> on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:51PM (#32409264) Homepage Journal
    So dose This [discoverynews.us] mean Dinosaurs walked with man, or that Dinosaurs could draw?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:10PM (#32409416)
    Perhaps it's worth considering that Australia's neighbour, New Zealand, has had pretty much the largest flightless bird, at 12ft (~4m) high the Moa [wikipedia.org], hunted to extinction by the Maori. It's considered to be a cousin of the Australian Emu. Little need for wings with no mammals around for all those thousands of years..

    Relatedly NZ has had by far the world's largest eagle [wikipedia.org], often depicted in indigenous culture carrying away small humans (think "children").
  • Midwest (Score:4, Informative)

    by DrugCheese ( 266151 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:19PM (#32409516)

    I've read stories of American Indian culture talking about the giant birds in the midwest states. South of me here along the Mississippi near Alton Illinois there apparently used to be a giant painting of a bird on the side of a bluff near a cave. Unfortunately the bluff was destroyed by the nearby state prison for gravel.

  • A cousin of the Moa? (Score:5, Informative)

    by delire ( 809063 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:21PM (#32409538)
    Last post disappeared to /dev/null. Trying again.

    It's perhaps worth considering that Australia's neighbour New Zealand had what's probably the world's largest flightless bird at 4m tall (12ft) , the Moa [wikipedia.org]. Much like the Kiwi, it simply didn't need to keep wings as their were no mammals with which to compete. It was soon hunted to extinction by Maori settlers some 500 years ago. Of note it's considered to be a relative of the Australian Emu..

    While the rest of the bird kingdom in NZ devolved their wings, the world's biggest eagle, The Haast Eagle [wikipedia.org] enjoyed the easy life, often making short work of the Moa from time to time.
  • by zerro ( 1820876 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:57PM (#32409990)
    of course, if we RTFA, we note that they plan on doing just that "Further studies, such as radiocarbon dating of the paint, are planned."
  • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @04:55PM (#32410694) Homepage Journal

    It's an estimation. All data points that old are estimates, and thinner on the ground than you'd like. So each new data point is potentially very handy in establishing the chronology of what happened when on the continent.

    Either the people were there earlier, or the bird there later, than previously thought. They have reason to believe it's the former (20,000 year old fossils should be easier to find than 40,000 year old ones), and it fits well into a picture that humans came and helped wipe the bird out. They've found skeletons of this bird in the same caves as evidence of human habitation, but the timing is hard to sort out. This data point helps make the picture more clear, if still not perfectly clear.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:41PM (#32411274) Homepage Journal

    Usually, in such circumstances, there's a charcoal source that is connected to the art. But there are many forms of dating and I wouldn't trust the article to have been written with an exceptionally technical audience in mind. Creswell Crags' cave art was dated via the limestone deposited over the figures. Clay, under specific circumstances as I've listed elsewhere in the replies, can be dated. Anything exposed to cosmic rays can (in theory) be dated by the ratio of the isotopes. (Cosmic rays alter the nuclei at a deterministic rate.)

  • by bar-agent ( 698856 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:23PM (#32411734)

    The terror bird [wikipedia.org] predated the Moa and Haast's Eagle by eras (or epochs, not sure). It was around during the Cenozoic and wide-spread. Although moas were bigger, the terror birds were a tougher customer. Instead of wings, they apparently had short arms tipped with a claw that they used to spear and hold on to their prey, and a meat-cleaver of a beak.

  • by shermo ( 1284310 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:48PM (#32411974)

    We know the Maoris did the same to the Moa in New Zealand, and there seem to be a lot of similarities here.

  • here's one (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @07:02PM (#32412100)
  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @10:19PM (#32413610)
    Carbon dating on the implements used to mix the paint was used to get the age according to the news reports on the radio yesterday.
  • by bogjobber ( 880402 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @02:18AM (#32415208)

    Bear and cougar are appropriately described as gamey. Edible and not disgusting by any means, but very stringy and certainly not something you would eat outside of necessity or novelty.

    But when bison, venison, elk, etc. are described as gamey it's for one of two reasons. Reason #1 is because it was taken from a less-than ideal animal. Aged females and adult males are less tasty than their younger, relatively hormone-free relatives. That's why in domesticated animals, males destined for slaughter and sale are neutered before they start to mature sexually. Animals taken in the wild obviously are not raised in the same controlled environments. Climate or disease might lead the animals to be much leaner and wirey in some years than they normally are. And very generally speaking the older the animal is, the less tender the meat.

    Reason #2 is that people don't understand how to cut or cook lean meat. People treat it same way they would beef, when that potentially could ruin the flavor. Many game processors will cut deer or elk it into thick steaks, but you really want thinner strips that can be cooked on lower heats and for shorter times to preserve the flavor. The meat is leaner and displays a lower amount of marbling than beef, and if you cook it past medium the gamey taste will become more pronounced. But if you get it from a restaurant or educate yourself on how to cook it properly, you should be able to enjoy the experience fully.

    I grew up in a family that hunted and ate pretty much everything and it's amazing how badly people can ruin some of the most delicious, healthy meat in the world.

  • by wkcole ( 644783 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @02:18AM (#32415210)

    What is really interesting about this is the age of the rock art, which would seem to be as old as any human art anywhere and make the case for the Jawoyn Aborigines having one of the oldest cultures in the world. .

    from the original article

    The Jawoyn people say they are excited the painting could be Australia's oldest dated rock art. The Jawoyn are a group of Indigenous peoples who are the traditional owners of the land in Australia's Northern Territory...

    What leads you to believe that as successive waves of humans entered Australia that the current occupants are in any way related to the painting's creators? Were the original inhabitants pushed further south,overrun,wiped out,walked to Tasmania? http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070509161829.htm [sciencedaily.com]

    "At the time of the migration, 50,000 years ago, Australia and New Guinea were joined by a land bridge and the region was also only separated from the main Eurasian land mass by narrow straits such as Wallace's Line in Indonesia. The land bridge was submerged about 8,000 years ago...

    Given 30,000 years plus at the front door entrance to Australia I think the Jarwoyn are the least likely descendants of the original artists.

    You seem to have stopped reading that article a paragraph ahead of the answer to your question. One of the key findings from that genetic tracing work is that unlike many other places, Australia had only one genetically significant wave of immigration. Geographically, I believe it is also not quite right that Arnhem Land was the 'front door' into Australia, since Cape York was the most persistent part of the connection to New Guinea.

    In addition, there is some continuity between essentially modern Jawoyn rock art and the older drawings. When Europeans arrived, they were making red ochre rock drawings in the same places that have similar red ochre rock drawings going back thousands of years. Between that and the genetic evidence that all Australian Aborigines and Melanesians are descendants of a single group of immigrants from ~50kya, it would take significant hypothesizing away from the evidence to not credit their ancestors with the oldest of the drawings.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"