January 3, 2011

Some rock art of Australia does not retain any paint but pigmented microbes

This is quite unexpected and rather shocking: rock art from Bradshaw, West Australia, keeps no paint all, but remains  drawn and visible because of microbes of red and black colors which have colonized the painted area. 

This makes dating the paintings almost impossible because they are alive, literally so. However the possibility of indirect dating using DNA sequencing remains open.

The implicated microbes are a black fungus and a red bacteria whose species are yet to be identified but which apparently survive cannibalizing their ancestors.

Amplified boundary of a a drawing
Sources: Antiquity, BBC, Stone Pages


  1. Really amazing and interesting.
    as possible? really no traces of paint?
    Why do microbes have occupied the painted areas?
    is because the painted areas are warm?
    feed on some component of pigment?


  2. They speculate that the microbes were introduced with the paint and they seem pretty sue they feed on previous generations of themselves (though bacteria might also feed on the rock, I guess).

    I can't say more than the sources tell. It seems that a lot of the issue is as of yet surrounded in mystery.


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