The identification of extinct megafauna in rock art using geometric morphometrics: A Genyornis newtoni painting in Arnhem Land, northern Australia?

Publication date: November 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 87
Author(s): Rommy Cobden, Chris Clarkson, Gilbert J. Price, Bruno David, Jean-Michel Geneste, Jean-Jacques Delannoy, Bryce Barker, Lara Lamb, Robert G. Gunn
Identifying extinct fauna in rock art is a common but difficult exercise. Here we use geometric morphometric analysis of shape to examine the oft-cited painting from Arnhem Land attributed by Gunn et al. to the long-extinct species Genyornis newtoni. We compare the shape of key anatomical features in this painting to anatomical depictions of Genyornis as well as to two other possible candidates – the emu and the magpie goose. Comparisons are also made to rock art depictions of these birds from northern Australia. We find that while the so-called ‘Genyornis’ painting does more closely resemble anatomical depictions of Genyornis than any other bird examined, all rock art images overlap in shape to such a degree that confident assignment of this image to any avian species is problematic.