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Ancient Art Appears Like Magic

Prehistoric art in Australia that is invisible to the naked eye is being discovered by digital cameras and image-enhancing computers. Archeologists take pictures of blank walls and enhance them, and ancient images magically appear.

Archeologist Bruno David says, "Sometimes you can see a trace of something, but even when a painting has faded completely from view, the colors have gone into the rock. With image enhancement, we can separate out those colors from the gray of the rock and transpose them with ones that our own eyes and brains are more sensitive to. Suddenly we can see what was invisible before."

Bob Beale writes that David and his team go to places where they know ancient art exists, and take hundreds of digital photos of nearby rocks, which look completely bare. When they enhance them, they often find elaborate images that have faded from view. "We had no idea that we would be able to pick up totally invisible images," David says. "It was so exciting to see these characters and events from local history and legend emerge so unexpectedly like this."

One of these is a red ochre painting of a menacing face with fanged teeth, holding a shield. It surprised the scientists because local oral tradition makes no mention of such a character or to the use of shields. This means that the art may be so old that the legends about it have faded away as well. Other times, they've found images of animals that scientists didn't know had ever existed in Australia.

"I would say that hundreds of thousands of individual rock paintings are waiting to be found through this technology," he says. "It will not only add many new images to existing records, but on many rock walls the most faded ones will be the oldest, so it will help to put all Australian rock art in a much better historical framework as well."

Is there any way to find out what our ancient ancestors knew? William Henry says we can do it by tracking language. He talks with Whitley (and gives him a Tarot reading for subscribers!) on Dreamland.

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