Nawarla Gabarnmang, the oldest cave painting in the world

Nawarla Gabarnmang, the oldest cave painting in the world

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Nawarla Gabarnmang is a large rockshelter located in remote Jawoyn Aboriginal country in southwestern Arnhem Land, Australia. Within it is one of the oldest cave paintings in the world (the oldest painting, according to some archaeologists).

Much older than Stonehenge, the ancient monument of Gobekli Tepe (9000 BC) or even than the pyramids, Nawarla Gabarnmang is the living proof that people in the distant past wanted to leave a message to posterity. Created tens of thousands of years ago, these cave paintings are incredible beautiful and demonstrate the talent of ancient people when it comes to art.

A painting like no other

The Nawarla Gabarnmang is located in Australia, in the southwestern Arhno. An archaeological site hiding numerous cave paintings.

Nawarla Gabarnmang’s entrance is 400 meters (1,300 feet) above sea level, and about 180 m (590 ft) above the surrounding plains on the Arnhem Land plateau. The bedrock of the cave is part of the Kombolgie Formation, and the initial opening was created by differential erosion.

Nawarla Gabarnmang, the oldest cave painting in the world
The resulting plan is a 19-m (52.8-ft) wide gallery that opens to daylight on the north and south, with a sub-horizontal ceiling ranging between 1.75 to 2.45 m (5.7-8 ft) above the cave floor. Here, over 45,000 years ago, ancient people lived. Since it was their home, they decorated it as they knew better, that is, they made many paintings that go beyond anyone’s imagination.

These paintings include wild animals, fish, but also spooky shapes, all painted in vivid colors. These works have been made over hundreds or perhaps thousands of years and have survived to this day.

In some places, the ceiling tiles have been removed and painted. The scientists who analyzed them claim that it is true works of art, rock art, that can compete with famous paintings in France or Spain. The only difference is that the rock paintings were made tens of thousands of years ago.

When it came to dating, the controversy began. Some archaeologists claim that they were started 50,000 years ago and probably were finished 44,000 years ago. These figures are estimative, without too much importance, given that the rock paintings are considered the oldest rock art time in the world.

Nawarla Gabarnmang, the oldest cave painting in the world

The researchers are convinced that the living space of the cave was intentionally arranged, one of the entrances has been significantly enlarged, and the cave has been redecorated several times. The research team uses the French term „aménagement” to encapsulate the notion of apparently intentional modification of the cave’s living space.

A cave like no other

The cave floor is covered with approximately 70 centimeters (28 inches) of soil, a mix of ash from fires, fine aeolian sand and silt, and locally fragmented sandstone and quartzite rocks. There are so many elements that indicate that the cave has been set to a certain standard.

There are numerous caves all over the world, where we can find such cave paintings. For example, one of the most famous caves is the Chauvet Cave in France. If we were to compare the rock drawings found in the two caves, we come to the conclusion that those in Gabarnmang are more vivace. Australian artists used bright colors for their drawings and were much more talented than those who lived in the Chauvet Cave.

Nawarla Gabarnmang was brought to scholarly attention when Ray Whear and Chris Morgan of the Jawoyn Association survey team noted the unusually large rockshelter in 2007, during a routine aerial survey of the Arnhem Land plateau. The team landed their helicopter and were stunned at the remarkable beauty of the painted gallery.

Nawarla Gabarnmang was brought to scholarly attention when Ray Whear and Chris Morgan of the Jawoyn Association survey team noted the unusually large rockshelter in 2007, during a routine aerial survey of the Arnhem Land plateau. The team landed their helicopter and were stunned at the remarkable beauty of the painted gallery.

Anthropological discussions with regional senior elders Wamud Namok and Jimmy Kalarriya revealed the name of the site as Nawarla Gabarnmang, meaning “the place of the hole in the rock”. The traditional owners of the site were identified as Jawoyn clan Buyhmi, and clan elder Margaret Katherine was brought to the site.

Excavation units were opened in Nawarla Gabarnmang beginning in 2010, and they will continue for some time, supported by a range of remote sensing techniques including Lidar and Ground Penetrating Radar.

Nawarla Gabarnmang, the oldest cave painting in the world

The Genyornis Newtoni bird

One of the most suggestive paintings is that of the Genyornis Newtoni bird. This bird lived on the territory of Australia 45,000 years ago and was known as the flightless bird. Rare beauty. The painting is sensational and makes scientists claim that the ancient people of Australia were true artists, masters of stone painting.

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