National Geographic : 1988 Oct
I was stunned by the abundance of subjects: There were kanga roos, crocodiles, barramundi, emus, the Tasmanian tiger, the rain bow snake- still a feature of Aboriginal rituals. There were spirit figures, yam-shaped figures, "X-ray" figures that showed the ani mal's spine and inner organs. There were warriors with elaborate headdresses, pubic fringes, fighting picks, boomerangs, spears and spear-throwers. And there were hands-outlined or printed, like those I had seen far away in the Pyrenees. George had classified and dated the paintings according to style and subject: Some animals had vanished when the sea rose and sep arated Australia from New Guinea; new ones had come when the sea continued to rise and gave the area an estuarine character. George believed the paintings dated from 20,000 to 16 years ago. Other experts think the oldest to be 10,000 years old. "There's no technical way to date them," George said, "be cause the artists didn't use any organic material in either the pig ment or the fixative." But those mineral-base pigments had endured; they had penetrated into the matrix of the rock; then silica skins had formed over them, bonding them to the rock. However old, there was in all the art a startling clarity, vigor, rom scattered mammoth bones, including a broken mandible (below, at far left), excavators at Kostenki along the Don River in the U.S.S.R. reconstruct the appearance of shelters built some 23,000 years ago. A wealth of ornaments, tools, and animal remains point to a complex life-style and plen tiful game exploited by hunters who had adapted to the cold of windswept steppes and were not constantly on the move seek ing food. Last year a mammoth bone dwelling was excavated at Milovice, Czechoslovakia, the westernmost discovered so far.