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For an interesting discussion of issues to do with dating Arnhem Land rock art, see the article by Chippindale and Tacon.
Techniques for dating have usually involved radio-carbon dating of material associated with the art, but there are also newer techniques now available including optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS).
However convincing arguments that this fragment is evidence of pigment application have yet to be presented.
Probably Australia's earliest known artistic system is the rock engravings in the Olary region of South Australia.
These geometric engravings of circles, tracks, cupules and other designs are thickly coated with desert varnish.
These dates give a minimum age for the fragment and for the occupation of the shelter.The red pigment seems to be the remains of paint on a rock art fragment fallen from the ceiling above.The layer containing the painted fragment yielded ochre, burnt bone, stone artefacts and charcoal with an accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon date of 39,700 1,000 BP (BP means Before the Present, which in this context is 1950, when the radiocarbon dating technique was developed).This is, of course, a contentious area, with recent claims for dates in southern France and northern Italy going back as far as 35 000 years.Archaeologist Sue O'Connor at the Australian National University has found a buried fragment of rock painting preserved in the limestone rock-shelter of Carpenter's Gap in the Kimberley (near Windjana Gorge National Park) in a layer dated to 40 000 years old.