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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 Spykk ( 823586 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:11PM (#32409428)
    Who is to say that the descriptions of the bird were not passed down in legends? It seems entirely possible to me that the bird was painted after they had become extinct.
  • Re:This just in! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:18PM (#32409498) Journal

    I have mod points but thought I would comment instead.

    To you and the clueless fucks who modded you up to +5 Insightful: Yes, you must think you are brilliant. Of course the archeologists have no idea that cave drawings represent reality. This is an absolutely new concept to them.

    It could have nothing to do with verifying that, yes indeed, this animal did go extinct in the time period they thing it did. It has nothing to do with showing the relationships the people had with the bird (was it food? was it considered to be good luck?) or how accurately the drawings represented the actual bird (based on fossilized remains). Or probably a dozen other insights that I would never think of.

    But yes, you oh brilliant 13 year old on Slashdot because Mom won't let you go out and play in the rain have skewered their efforts completely.

    Frankly, it is the +5 Insightful that set me off. How stupid can you be?

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:26PM (#32409596) Journal

    So, we think the bird went extinct 40k years ago, so we're using that to date the painting as being that old?

    Of course not. There could have been a 35000 year-old member of the tribe who painted the picture.

    There has been a steady stream of evidence for human civilization much much earlier than is currently accepted. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that in my lifetime, there's going to be a revision of just how old humanity really is. Since anthropologists went way out on a limb 100 years ago and tied their estimates for the beginnings of human civilization to some notion of biblical "history" they have been working very hard to protect themselves from any challenge. Any evidence for civilization going back 25,000 or 55,000 or 150,000 years is simply ignored as being an "outlier". It must be spurious, they say, because it does not fit with our current theories. If those theories were to fall, so would the doctoral dissertations and published manuscripts of hundreds and hundreds of highly respected members of their fraternity.

    Every so often, someone like, say, Michael Tellinger, or Robert Bauval, who is a member in good standing of the club, dares to present evidence suggesting that the current estimates of human origins are way off. Those people are quickly and efficiently made to not exist in the collective consciousness of anthropology. When it comes to dealing with people who challenge conventional wisdom, anthropologists can be practically Stalinist in the ruthless way they can forget formerly prestigious fellows ever existed.

  • by Josef Meixner ( 1020161 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:34PM (#32409694) Homepage

    How about we date the painting

    I don't think it is easy, if even possible. Don't forget it was scribbled on a sheet of rock. The sheet was created by natural processes, so no use to date it. The ocher also is a mixture of natural material (clay and iron oxide) and I don't think there is a way to date its use either. So only some kind of adhesive to get the paint to stick to the rock might contain carbon which could be dated. But the amount is probably very small and can be contaminated (the paintings were exposed to the surrounding for an very long time). So it seems useful to use any clue you can get to help in dating the drawings.

  • by aBaldrich ( 1692238 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:41PM (#32409792)
    Now my question is, was this bird really extinct 40k years ago? Or is it an estimation? Because, maybe, they could have lived on longer than they thought.
  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @04:39PM (#32410500) Journal

    Why? Tuna and Lobster are pretty tasty.

  • by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @04:43PM (#32410540) Homepage
    I find your assertions interesting, and would be gratified if you could supply a few links to support both the earlier origin hypothesis and the closed ranks of anthropologists. Not criticising, I'm genuinely interested.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:23PM (#32411058)

    Here's a stupid question: What if the drawing(s) are fiction?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:23PM (#32411060)

    First off, the scientists *somehow* come up with the magic number of 40,000 and say that is how many years ago the birds died out. Then they find a painting on a wall that *could* be one of those birds, and they assume the painting must then be 40,000 years old. Usually, the rock gets it's age from what's in it, and the fossil gets it's age from the rock. This leaves me wondering why in all the world we're still stupid enough to treat our theories like they are proven fact, when most of us don't even know where those theories (a.k.a. the dates) came from in the first place?

  • by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:48PM (#32411358)

    Interestingly the drawing shown in the article looks remarkably like some drawings and descriptions of bunyips that I've seen and read about that the indigenous Australians described to colonial settlers (When I say some drawings I mean some of the earlier drawings post-colonisation. As time progressed after European settlement the drawings and descriptions seem to have diverged from the earlier descriptions). To me it does not seem too far fetched that remnants of this creature have been passed down through the generations eventually becoming myth or legend. So, have we found the bunyip?

  • by bwilli123 ( 683409 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:28PM (#32411796)

    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.

  • by DarkEmpath ( 1064992 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @08:52PM (#32412960)

    I was actually just watching a YouTube video on the extinctions on mega-fauna yesterday. Apparently carbon dating is particularly difficult in Australia as we have an unusually high percentage of carbonate rocks. It causes a lot of environmental contamination. I can't believe I've lived here all my life and didn't know that.

    Growing up, I've heard figures about aboriginal arrival in Australia ranging from 40,000 years up to 80,000 ago. Since modern humans hadn't been human all that long 80,000 years ago, I'm leaning towards the lower end of that scale. All the evidence, however, points to mega fauna extinction within a short time after human arrival. A documentary I saw a couple of years ago indicated humans didn't hunt mega fauna to extinction, but the aboriginal practice of periodic burning of the landscape changed the flora, and the larger fauna (marsupial lions, giant goannas, giant kangaroos, and the subject of the article, the "demon duck of doom") weren't able to adapt in time.

    I'm guessing, in a place like this, 40,000 years back is all you can accurately carbon date, even under ideal conditions. I don't think anyone (in the scientific community) doubted humans and demon ducks of doom co-existed, we just didn't really know how long that coexistence was.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday May 31, 2010 @10:32PM (#32413718) Journal

    Well, unfortunately, if anthropologists closed ranks on someone, it's unlikely that they're still in the field. Usually the early origins model are killed in the crib, at the point of dissertation.

    When I did computer work for the Oriental Institute at the Univ of Chicago some years back, I encountered a professor who very quietly and very discreetly believed that human origins went back a lot further. He'd seen grad students do some amazing work in South West China with artifacts that just should not have been where they were found. And it wasn't just a few items. The kid was denied a PhD, which is quite rare in academia and left school completely. The prof told me that this happened more than once. He told me that Egyptology especially is rife with examples of much older origins for the monuments near Giza, but they are dismissed out of hand without analysis for the most part.

    Maybe he was a crank, but he had a named chair with the dept and the institute and didn't seem looney.

    I'm not an anthropologist, so I prefer believing really sketchy theories like those of Graham Hancock and Michael Tellinger and Mr Cremo. Be careful of the link that the AC below has included however. It set one of my spyware blockers into spasms, so it might not be what it seems. Maybe google "Forbidden Archaeology" for some interesting reading.

    Beyond that, affiant sayeth not.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel