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Aboriginal rock art on the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth Station, Australia (photo by Graeme Churchard/Wikimedia)

Australia’s Aboriginal cave art is at risk of disappearance within 50 years, according to an expert quoted in the Guardian‘s recent investigation of the threats facing the prehistoric art. The risks are reportedly manifold — from vibrations arising from mining operations to feral animals and graffiti — with insufficient government resources deployed to preserve the estimated 100,000 rock art sites.

Dating from at least as early as 30,000 years ago, Australia’s rock art is as voluminous as it is neglected, and the Guardian‘s report highlights instances of roadwork vibrations damaging sandstone inscriptions, vandals defacing ancient works, and animal-related harm, among other sources of neglect. The paper notes that these conditions are unique to Australia; according to Canadian-born academic Paul Taçon, the source of the aforementioned 50-year prediction:

‘France and Spain spend vast amounts of money conserving their rock art, even China is spending millions and putting in a world heritage application for rock art that is 2,000 years old.’

And, unlike in France and Spain, where some of the world’s oldest cave art continues to be discovered, there is a living population in Australia with clear cultural ties to the work. Indeed, Aboriginal rock art is the oldest uninterrupted artistic tradition in the world. Desmond Tayley, a member of one indigenous community, told the Guardian that his cultural heritage was threatened by an Australian government development project that compromised the conditions of some rock art with mining and other development.

“That rock art is special, it’s something we grew up with and we want to protect it,” Tayley said.

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Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.