Talking Stone Rock Art Coso America USA Documentary Film

Latest News

BRADSHAW FOUNDATION - LATEST NEWS

 
Latest Research on Bradshaw paintings – a living art?
2011 Jan 21

Share

Ancient rock art's colours come from microbes

BBC News Science & Environment
28 December 2010

A particular type of ancient rock art in Western Australia maintains its vivid colours because it is alive, researchers have found.

While some rock art fades in hundreds of years, the Bradshaw art remains colourful after at least 40,000 years.

Jack Pettigrew of the University of Queensland in Australia has shown that the paintings have been colonised by colourful bacteria and fungi.
These biofilms may explain previous difficulties in dating such rock art.
Professor Pettigrew and his colleagues studied 80 of these Bradshaw rock artworks - named for the 19th-Century naturalist who first identified them - in 16 locations within Western Australia's Kimberley region.

They concentrated on two of the oldest known styles of Bradshaw art - Tassel and Sash - and found that a vast majority of them showed signs of life, but no paint.

The team dubbed the phenomenon "Living pigments".

"'Living pigments' is a metaphorical device to refer to the fact that the pigments of the original paint have been replaced by pigmented micro-organisms," Professor Pettigrew told BBC News.

"These organisms are alive and could have replenished themselves over endless millennia to explain the freshness of the paintings' appearance."
Among the most frequent inhabitants of the boundaries of the artwork was a black fungus, thought to be of the group of fungi known as Chaetothyriales.
Successive generations of these fungi grow by cannibalising their predecessors. That means that if the initial paint layer - from tens of thousands of years ago - had spores of the fungus within it, the current fungal inhabitants may be direct descendants.

The team also noted that the original paint may have had nutrients in it that "kick-started" a mutual relationship between the black fungi and red bacteria that often appear together. The fungi can provide water to the bacteria, while the bacteria provide carbohydrates to the fungi.

The exact species involved in these colourations have yet to be identified, and Professor Pettigrew said that the harsh conditions in the Kimberley region may hamper future research.

However, even the suggestion of these "living pigments" may explain why attempts to date some rock art has shown inconsistent results: although the paintings may be ancient, the life that fills their outlines is quite recent.
"Dating individual Bradshaw art is crucial to any further understanding of its meaning and development," Professor Pettigrew said.

"That possibility is presently far away, but the biofilm offers a possible avenue using DNA sequence evolution. We have begun work on that but this will be a long project."

Didier Bouakaze-Khan, a rock art expert from University College London, said that "there's a general consensus that what we're looking at might not purely be pigment as it was applied when the depictions were made", but that studies like this one would help archaeologists worldwide to take into account what effects life itself may be having on the art.

"It's very interesting and very exciting what they're showing - that there's some microorganisms going into the pigments and not destroying them, which is usually what's associated with the effect," he told BBC News.
Speaking about African rock artists, he said that "they had an intimate knowledge of ingredients theye were using and knew how long they would last, the rate of decay and how dark they would go and so on - not necessarily them controlling it, but they were definitely aware."

As such, Dr Bouakaze-Khan said it would be interesting to investigate whether the Bradshaw artists knew about the long-term effects of the specific pigments they used in their works.

For more information on Jack Pettigrew’s research click here



Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us News Articles Twitter Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Join the free Mailing List Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Coso Range Nevada Oregon Territory Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Ian Wilson Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Archive Index Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Portable Art Research Paper Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Tanum Rock Art Museum Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes List of Research Papers Other Websites Contact the Foundation