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Luminescence dating of rock art and past environments using mud-wasp nests in northern Australia

Journal Article


Abstract


  • Mud-nesting wasps are found in all of the main biogeographical regions of the world, and construct nests that become petrified after abandonment. Nests built by mud-dauber and potter wasps in rock shelters in northern Australia often overlie, and occasionally underlie, prehistoric rock paintings. Mud nests contain pollen, spores and phytoliths from which information about local palaeovegetation can be gleaned. Here we report a new application of optical dating, using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating of pollen to determine the ages of mud-wasp nests associated with rock paintings in the Kimberley region of Western Australia Optical dating of quartz sand (including the analysis of individual grains) embedded in the mud of fossilized nests shows that some anthropomorphic paintings are more than 17,000 years old. Reconstructions of past local environments are also possible from the range of pollen and phytolith types identified. This approach should have widespread application to studies of rock-art dating and late Quaternary environmental change on continents where mud-wasps once lived and other sources of palaeo-ecological information are absent.

Publication Date


  • 1997

Published In


Citation


  • Roberts, R., Walsh, G., Murray, A., Olley, J., Jones, R., Morwood, M., . . . Naumann, I. (1997). Luminescence dating of rock art and past environments using mud-wasp nests in northern Australia. Nature, 387(6634), 696-699. doi:10.1038/42690

Scopus Eid


  • 2-s2.0-0030620243

Start Page


  • 696

End Page


  • 699

Volume


  • 387

Issue


  • 6634

Abstract


  • Mud-nesting wasps are found in all of the main biogeographical regions of the world, and construct nests that become petrified after abandonment. Nests built by mud-dauber and potter wasps in rock shelters in northern Australia often overlie, and occasionally underlie, prehistoric rock paintings. Mud nests contain pollen, spores and phytoliths from which information about local palaeovegetation can be gleaned. Here we report a new application of optical dating, using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating of pollen to determine the ages of mud-wasp nests associated with rock paintings in the Kimberley region of Western Australia Optical dating of quartz sand (including the analysis of individual grains) embedded in the mud of fossilized nests shows that some anthropomorphic paintings are more than 17,000 years old. Reconstructions of past local environments are also possible from the range of pollen and phytolith types identified. This approach should have widespread application to studies of rock-art dating and late Quaternary environmental change on continents where mud-wasps once lived and other sources of palaeo-ecological information are absent.

Publication Date


  • 1997

Published In


Citation


  • Roberts, R., Walsh, G., Murray, A., Olley, J., Jones, R., Morwood, M., . . . Naumann, I. (1997). Luminescence dating of rock art and past environments using mud-wasp nests in northern Australia. Nature, 387(6634), 696-699. doi:10.1038/42690

Scopus Eid


  • 2-s2.0-0030620243

Start Page


  • 696

End Page


  • 699

Volume


  • 387

Issue


  • 6634