HANDPRINTS IN LIFOU GROTTO, NEW CALEDONIA, DATE BACK 3,000 YEARS, SAY

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SCIENTISTS

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (July 25, 2002 - Oceania Flash)---Unique hand drawings in the grotto of Fetra-Hé (Lifou Island, Loyalty Group) are believed to be close to 3,000 years old, according to latest scientific research, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Recent developments in the dating process on samples of the ancient paintings -- about 170 imprints of hands -- lead scientists to believe that earlier estimates about their date of origin were far too conservative.

The hand drawings could be some of the oldest artwork in the whole of Melanesia, dating back to 600 BC, they say.

The Fetra-Hé grotto is part of a series of caves in the Wetr District of Lifou Island.

Apart from the handprints, other drawings depict turtles, fish, birds and circles, some of which may be from a later period, up to 400 AD.

Scientists believe the drawings are evidence that human settlement in the New Caledonia area occurred much earlier that is generally accepted.

New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands province is now considering declaring the grotto site an historical monument.

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