Researchers investigating rapid climate change in the Kimberley region found the intense drought coincided with the disappearance of a pre-Aboriginal style of rock paintings about 7000 years ago.
The Gwion rock-art style lasted some 10,000 years before the final image was painted. Wandjina paintings only appeared about 4000 years ago.
“The likely reason for the demise of the Gwion artists was a mega-drought spanning approximately 1500 years, brought on by changing climate conditions that caused the collapse of the Australian summer monsoon,” says associate professor Hamish McGowan of the University of Queensland’s School of Geography.
The study found the plant density and land surface had changed at this time, combining with increased dust in the air. The effect was the failure of monsoon rains – peaking about 5500 years ago.
“This confirms that pre-historic aboriginal cultures experienced catastrophic upheaval due to rapid natural climate variability,” he said.
“This is contrary to the conventional view that Australian Aboriginals lived a highly sustainable hunter-gatherer existence in which their knowledge of the landscape meant they adapted to climate variability with little impact.”
Wandjina painters appear to have only moved into the area after the climate again became more favourable about 4000 years ago.
The report, published in the American Geophysical Union Journal, was compiled by researchers from the University of Queensland, Central Queensland University and Wollongong University.