40,000-Year-Old Art is Alive and Well

Photograph courtesy of flickr.com member Paul Mannix

Researchers have made an interesting discovery about ancient rock art in Western Australia: it’s alive. While most rock art fades over time, the colors on these caves have remained bright and vibrant after an astonishing 40,000 years. How did this happen? ‘Living pigments,’ the term dubbed by the researchers to explain this phenomenon. The pigments of the original painting were eventually replaced by pigmented microorganisms. These microorganisms have replenished themselves countless times over the years, resulting in the artwork’s brightness. Whether or not the artists knew their pigments would survive is unclear, but in a world where the passage of time generally decays, breaks down, and rusts relics of the past, it’s fascinating (and refreshing) to see that every so often, time is on our side.

Allison Nonko