Hundreds of Rock Art Images Documented in Australia

Hundreds of Rock Art Images Documented in Australia

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Hundreds of Rock Art Images Documented in Australia

Cosmos Magazine reports that 572 Maliwawa Figures have been documented for the first time at 87 different rock art sites in northern Australia’s Arnhem Land. Paul Taçon of Griffith University said the red figures, drawn between 6,000 and 9,400 years ago, depict humans and animals living in relationships and engaging in different activities.

Hundreds of Rock Art Images Documented in Australia
Maliwawa macropod over 3MFC hand stencil, Namunidjbuk.

The researchers suggest they are a missing link between early-style Dynamic Figures, 12,000 years in age, and X-ray figures made in the past 4,000 years. 

The images were created in various shades of red, with stroke-infill or outline forms and a few red strokes as infill. Some are more than 50-centimeters high.

Large male Maliwawa human figures from an Awunbarna site.

The scenes depict humans and macropods, including three bilbies and a dugong, and lead researcher Paul Taçon, from Australia’s Griffith University, suggests the presence of various forms of headdresses shows they are not just simple depictions of everyday life.

“Maliwawas are depicted as solitary figures and as part of group scenes showing various activities and some may have a ceremonial context,” he says.

“Human figures are frequently depicted with animals, especially macropods, and these animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists’ message.

“Indeed, animals are much more common than in the Dynamic Figure style rock art in terms of percentage of subject matter, as 89% of Dynamic Figures are human, whereas only about 42% of Maliwawa Figures are human.”

Griffith colleague and co-author Sally May says the discovery of bilby images at an Awunbarna site was surprising as Arnhem Land historically has not been within their range. 

The solitary dugong painting, which is the oldest known image, also appears out of place. “It indicates a Maliwawa artist visited the coast, but the lack of other saltwater fauna may suggest this was not a frequent occurrence,” May says.

However, the intrigue of the paintings goes beyond what they depict, with researchers curious about the artists and the techniques they used.  

“The Maliwawa back-to-back figures are the oldest known for western Arnhem Land and it appears this painting convention began with the Maliwawa style. It continues to the present with bark paintings and paintings on paper,” Taçon says.

As for the people behind the paintings, Taçon says they cannot rule out the possibility that a small group of artists produced Maliwawa rock paintings.

There is also the possibility that only a couple of artists made the paintings with one responsible for the outline forms, the other creating the fuller stroke-line infill examples. 


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