A long time ago, animals that don’t exist anymore lived in this country. Scientists have found their bones in the ground and have studied them. Because many of these ancient animals were bigger than the animals of today, scientists have called them ‘megafauna’ (in Latin ‘mega’ means ‘big’ and ‘fauna’ means ‘animals’). Most of these animals disappeared long before people arrived in Sahul. But some of these giant animals were still here when people arrived in the Country and they lived side by side with people for a long time before dying out.
Scientists disagree about why these animals disappeared: many scientists think the changing climate was the reason the animals died out, but some scientists think people’s burning and hunting could have also made it difficult for the last of the megafauna to survive.
Scientists also disagree about when these animals disappeared: some think this happened around 50,000-40,000 years ago, while others think some of these animals continued to live in the country until 30,000-20,000 years ago. But it is likely that when the first people came to Sahul they would have met a marsupial lion that jumped on its prey from trees and a crocodile-like creature that scientists have called ‘Ziphodont’ or ‘Quinkana’ , which unlike today’s saltwater crocodiles, lived on land and had long legs that made him a fast hunter. The first people in Australia likely also crossed paths with the ‘Megalania/Varanus prisca’, a giant goanna, the largest lizard that ever lived on earth as well as a giant constrictor snake, the ‘Wonambi’.
Australia has more rock art sites than any other country in the world. Rock art is everywhere in the country. The northern regions are especially rich in rock art sites. There are both rock paintings and rock carvings. Some are very old, others are recent. People have been painting and carving pictures on rocks for a long time.
Scientists also disagree about the age of the oldest rock art in Australia, but we know that rock paintings can survive for a very long time. In fact, in 2017 scientists dated the rock painting of a pig found in Sulawesi, Indonesia, just north of Australia, to be at least 45,500 years old. This painting is in a rock shelter like the ones in Arnhem Land. This means that our paintings could be just as old as the painting in Sulawesi.