Australian Indigenous art is the oldest unbroken tradition of art in the world. The oldest firmly dated rock art painting in Australia is a charcoal drawing on a rock fragment found during the excavation of the Narwala Gabarnmang rock shelter in south-western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Dated at 28,000 years, it is one of the oldest known pieces of rock art on Earth with a confirmed date.
These ancient rocks were found in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia is home to one of the oldest, largest and most varied collections of art in the world. A quirk of geology and climate has preserved tens of thousands of rock artworks that were produced over tens of thousands of years.
"If we can say that Australian art is the oldest continuous record anywhere on earth, that is extraordinary," Mr Gleadow told the Herald.
We've had a traditional perspective that things all started in Europe and migrated from there. They didn't necessarily.
"Kimberley rock art should be held up as one of the greatest cultural achievements in the great saga of human development and migration across our planet."
Chairwoman of the Kimberley Foundation, Maria Myers, has driven the project from its first ambitious hypothesis suggesting that Kimberley paintings may as be old as human settlement of the continent.
"It's what we set out to do. What this is eventually going to tell is the first part of Australia's story," said Ms Myers, who was in January made a Companion of the Order of Australia for her work championing Indigenous rock art.
She said the results were key to understanding how humans dealt with massive environmental changes, including sea level rise.
"It's a big part of the jigsaw puzzle of the movement of humans around the globe in early times," she said.