The Kimberley Rock Art Dating Project – a multi-system approach to dating Aboriginal rock art and landscape evolution in Australia’s remote Kimberley region

Professor Andrew Gleadow AO FAA

School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne



The Kimberley contains one of the greatest concentrations of indigenous rock art in the world, with innumerable sites showing figurative and engraved art of extraordinary richness and beauty. These sites are of great cultural importance and enormous scientific interest, the significance of which to a broader narrative of human origins has been constrained by a lack of dating. The Kimberley Rock Art Dating Project, which began in 2014, is a major research collaboration involving scientists from five different institutions supported by the Australian Research Council and Rock Art Australia in partnership with Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation and other groups. The project is focussed on developing a deep time framework in which to better understand the art and the people who have lived in this vast region from the Pleistocene to the present day.

Dating rock art in the ancient sandstones of the Kimberley is extremely challenging as the pigments used are mostly devoid of datable constituents. However, bracketing ages can be obtained by dating natural materials that have formed in association with various rock art styles. Four independent dating methods have now been successfully adapted to this purpose. These include cosmogenic radionuclide dating of rock falls and overall landscape evolution rates, radiocarbon dating of minute charcoal particles within mud wasp nests and oxalates in layered rock coatings. Optically stimulated luminescence dating has also been applied to large mud wasp nests, and uranium-series disequilibrium dating to surface mineral accretions. AMS methods have been central to the most successful of these approaches. The project is also providing insights into natural changes to rock surfaces that lead to degradation of the rock art over long periods of time. In this way the project will also help inform future strategies aimed at conservation and preservation of this important part of Australia’s indigenous heritage.


Andy Gleadow is an Emeritus Professor and former Head of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He has been a pioneer in the development of fission tack thermochronology and other dating methods in geology and their application to natural environments throughout the world. His interests have included applications to global tectonics, sedimentary basin analysis, and landscape evolution. His research has also included dating fossil hominin sites in East Africa and developing new approaches to dating rock art in northern Australia. Andy’s work has been recognised by numerous awards, medals, and fellowships, including the Research Medal of the Royal Society of Victoria, the AINSE Gold Medal, the Jaeger Medal of the Australian Academy of Science and the International Laslett Prize. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and was awarded an AO for distinguished service to the earth sciences and education in 2017. He is also a Director of Rock Art Australia and is Project Leader for the Kimberley Rock Art Dating Project.


Nov 15 2021


8:15 am - 9:00 am

Local Time

  • Timezone: America/New_York
  • Date: Nov 14 2021
  • Time: 4:15 pm - 5:00 pm