15,000 yr old aboriginal rock art suggests Britishers were not Australia's first visitors

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Sydney, September 21 : A vast wall that showcases aboriginal rock art, dating back more than 15,000 years, has been found in Djulirri rock shelter in the Wellington Range in Australia, which redraws the history of the contact between Aboriginal people and the world, and suggests that the British were probably not the first visitors to the continent.

According to a report in Sydney Morning Herald, the wall displays about 1500 paintings chronicles the history of Aboriginal contact with outsiders, from Macassan prows and European sailing ships to 19th-century steamships and a World War II battleship.

Alongside exquisite rock art more than 15,000 years old are paintings that capture some of the 19th and 20th centuries' most important technological innovations - a biplane, bicycle, car and rifle, as well as portraits of church ministers, sea captains and traders.

The Griffith University archaeologist Professor Paul Tacon, one of five scientists who travelled to Djulirri, said it was of international significance, unprecedented in artistic and technical merit and telling a new story of contact between Aboriginal people and the world.

Contrary to the popular view that indigenous Australians were isolated on their island continent, waves of other seafaring visitors arrived long before British settlement.

For hundreds of years, there may have been an export economy in northern Australia driven by the Chinese appetite for trepang, or sea cucumber.

While it has long been known that Macassans traded with Aboriginal people, the accepted date for this was in the early 18th century.

The team of scientists believes it may have begun centuries earlier.

"This rock art dismantles the popular identity of Australia being a nation first visited by the British," said Dr Alistair Paterson, of the University of Western Australia, also on the expedition. "It goes against the idea of the Bicentennial and convicts," he added.

The first rock art expert known to have seen the shelter was George Chaloupka in the 1970s.

But, the exact location was lost until a doctoral student at the Australian National University, Daryl Guse, relocated it by working with a local Aboriginal elder, Ronald Lamilami.

Apart from conducting the first full recording of the Djulirri art, the team of researchers discovered thousands of other rock paintings previously unknown to science.

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