"Many archaeologists have thought rock art has been a part of Aboriginal culture since earliest times...

but it's an inference." Pillans and colleague Keith Fifield have argued that rocks bearing Aboriginal engravings on the Burrup Peninsula have the potential to preserve the engravings for 50,000 to 60,000 years, but they have done no direct dating of the engravings themselves.

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According to archaeologist Dr Bruno David of Monash University the oldest reliably-dated rock engravings in Australia are 13,000 to 15000 years old, and are in Laura, Queensland.

"These were dated using radiocarbon dating of charcoal buried at the same depth of engravings," he says.

"And there are very few people doing research on rock art." David says there are hand stencils in some limestone caves in North Queensland that are believed to be more than 30,000 years old, and he hopes to be involved in dating these in the future.

The bottom line, says David, is that very little rock art anywhere in the world has been dated, including in Australia.

But there remain a lot of hints and circumstantial evidence around to support the idea that Australia is in fact home to the world's oldest art.

Pillans, who studies the Burrup rock engravings, describes the giant bird painting on the Arnhem Land plateau as a "hint of older rock art".What are the different methods used to date such artworks?And what are some of the challenges involved in dating them?The fragment was both preserved and dateable by being buried in carbon-containing soil But dating most rock art isn't usually quite so straightforward."Rock art is notoriously difficult to date," says David.The analyses quantify the colour palette expansion in the European painting art history after the Medieval period, which was caused by the introduction of oil paints and new kinds of color pigments.