Tuesday, June 1, 2010


It had a beak like a parrot, which distinguished it from the emu and has led some to believe it was a carnivore. It had stubby wings and was flightless, but would have been able to run fast on its sturdy legs. It stood over 2M tall and weighed upwards of 500lbs. It was the Genyornis (1st image), an extinct bird endemic to Australia. Fossils of the bird have been found in association with human artifacts, indicating that it co-existed with people for 15,000 years before it died out more than 40,000 years ago, probably due to human activity. But now scientists have recognized it as the bird depicted on the left in what could be Australia's oldest painting - Aboriginal art made with red ochre on the wall of a cave (3rd image). "The details on this painting indicate that it was done by someone who knew the animal very well," says archaeologist Robert Gunn (2nd image). The specifics in the image could not have simply been passed down through oral storytelling. "Either the painting is 40,000 years old, or the Genyornis lived much longer than we thought." The painting was found with others - including a thylacine - on an Aboriginal reserve in the Northern Territory. The age of the image hinges on the identification of the genyornis species, which in turn hinges upon the style and artistic license of the Aboriginal artist(s). Gunn's colleague Bert Roberts says it is about whether they were "the Picassos of their age or the Rembrandts."

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