Bushwhacking my way through the Australian rainforest, I stumbled on what appeared to be the remains of a picnic – a pile of blue plastic spoons. “Who would leave their trash in the middle of this pristine forest?” I asked my guide, the noted ornithologist Syd Curtis.

“Rubbish?” he laughed. “What are you talking about? That’s a profound thing you’re looking at right there. It’s the oldest artwork in the world.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look right behind the spoons. You can see what’s left of a structure made of dried grasses.”

I squinted. He was right. There were two walls built there, with a ...


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