Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Wargata Mina Cave, "my blood" (Judd's Cavern) Southern Forests, Tasmania

Wargata Mina Cave is situated in the Cracroft Valley, in the southern rainforest of Tasmania. In this cave are hand stencils that have been on the cave wall since the Ice Age, now almost covered by stalactites. It is one of the largest river caves in Australia, with 4.3 km of passages, alcoves and caverns. The painted alcove is 35 m from the entrance, at a point where the last faint daylight reaches. The chamber where the hand stencils have been painted is about the size of a suburban house, the dank cavern being draped with stalactites. The 23 stencils, at least, were sprayed on the wall in red ochre. It is believed the stencils are more than 12,000 year old, the estimates based the geomorphological evidence. A thick layer of calcium carbonate covers most of the art, in places the covering extends to flowstone on the floor of the cavern. In places the ceiling and floor are joined by stalactites more than 1 m thick, some growing in front of the stencils, so are obviously younger than the art.

In other caves in southwestern Tasmania, the calcium carbonate deposits have been dated to about 12,000 years ago, the humid phase following the close of the Ice Age. The hand stencils were of both adults and children. There were also expanses of red ochre smeared or painted on the walls, some several metres across. Traces of human blood and red blood cells have been found in the pigment from 2 walls (Loy, 1987). These blood samples were dated to 10,730 +/- 810 BP (RIDDL-1268) and 9,240 +/- 820 BP (RIDDL-169). It is believed this is the first known instance in the world of blood being identified in the pigments of rock art.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Flood, Josephine, 2004, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, JB Publications.
  2. Loy, T.H., 1987, Recent advances in blod residue analysis, in Archaeometry: Further Australasian Studies (eds. W.RAmbrose & J.M.Mummery) pp.57-65
  3. Loy, T.H. et al., 1990, 'Accelerator radiocarbon dating of human blood proteins in pigments from Late Pleistocene art sites in Australia', antiquity, vol.64 (242) 1990, pp. 110-16.


  1. The Tasmanians: Part 8b: Archaeology and the Oldest Tasmanians


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