Global Warming Destroys Tens of Thousands of Years Old Rock Art, Experts Warn | Indigenous art

Rock art that has lasted for tens of thousands of years is destroyed by the climate emergency within a few years.

Coastal erosion, fires, floods and cyclones are among the extreme events expected to worsen with global warming. Archaeologists and historians are now warning that serious damage has already been done.

A Flinders University symposium was held on Tuesday in response to the sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned of a “likely” increase in global temperature of more than 1.5 ° C, leading to more extreme weather events.

Some of the changes are now inevitable and “irreversible”, the report warned.

Dr Daryl Wesley, a multidisciplinary archaeologist from Flinders, spoke at the forum about the destruction caused by Cyclone Monica, one of Australia’s most severe tropical cyclones, which passed through Arnhem Land in 2006.

Old Man’s Hand in Minjnymirnjdawabu on the Manilakarr Estate in western Arnhem Land – one of the sites at risk. Photography: Daryl Wesley

He cut down half of the trees in a 50 km wide strip, pushing some into rock art sites and destroying them. After that, the fire arrived, made more intense because of the fuel charge Monica left behind.

Rock art is also often painted on sandstone, which sucks up a lot of water. The heat from the fires expands the water, exploding the rock, and the sites are gone.

Wesley said a range of environmental and human factors were already degrading rock art – he documented the changes during the Last 56 years.

But he said the climate crisis “is likely to push this overboard” as weather conditions, including cyclones, become even more severe.

“Today we are in a sort of critical situation or at a critical moment,” he said.

Griffith University archaeological scientist Dr Jillian Huntley has discovered that salt crystals collapse in the world’s oldest rocks, as crystals expand and contract in climate change.

Huntley studies rock art in the area of ​​the Australasian monsoon, which stretches from northern Australia to Indonesia, and specializes in rock art in Sulawesi. She said the same effect caused by salt can be seen across the upper end of Australia and into the Pilbara in Western Australia. The crystallization effect is accelerated by climate change, she said, which is worse in the tropics.

“These temperature increases are being felt at a rate three times that of the rest of the world,” she said. “A warming of 2.4 ° C would be a warming of 6 ° C in the tropics, which would be absolutely catastrophic. “

She said the IPCC report was “conservative” and that “severe, drastic and short-term reduction in emissions” was immediately needed.

“Not net zero by 2050,” she said. “Net zero as soon as possible.”

Symposium organizer and archeology speaker at Flinders, Dr Ania Kotarba, said it was important to look to the past in planning for the future.

“Humans have faced environmental challenges, climatic extremes and natural disasters for millennia,” she said.

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“While the severity and speed of change are now new and urgent, archaeological and historical research can, and should, uncover examples of communities adapting to rapid change, often in a lasting manner, and offer insights for the future. “

Meanwhile, an environmental historian from Flinders University, Dr Alessandro Antonello, said: “Humanity must both drastically reduce carbon emissions and adapt our lives to these rapidly changing circumstances.


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