Arnhem Land’s Maliwawa rock artwork a outstanding glimpse into Indigenous life nearly 10,000 years in the past | Paul SC Taçon and Sally Ok Could for the Dialog | Artwork and design

A painting from Namunidjbuk shows two male Maliwawas with ball headdresses reaching down to a shorter human figure with a snake behind the male on the right and behind the left male a female and a macropod. A human figure with a cone and feather headdress is above.

Western Arnhem Land within the Northern Territory has a outstanding vary and variety of rock artwork websites, rivalling that of Europe, southern Africa and numerous elements of Asia. A number of thousand websites have been documented, and annually new discoveries are made by numerous analysis groups working intently with native Aboriginal communities.

Right now, within the journal Australian Archaeology, we and colleagues introduce an vital beforehand undescribed rock artwork type. Consisting of huge human figures and animals, the type is primarily present in north-west Arnhem Land, and has been named Maliwawa Figures by senior conventional proprietor Ronald Lamilami.

We recorded 572 Maliwawa work at 87 rock shelters over a 130km east-west distance, from Awunbarna (Mount Borradaile) to the Namunidjbuk clan property of the Wellington Vary, a area dwelling to distinctive and internationally vital rock artwork of varied varieties.

Maliwawa Figures encompass pink to mulberry naturalistic human and animal kinds shaded with stroked strains. Sometimes they’re in define with just some strokes inside. Nearly all had been painted however there may be one drawing.

The figures are sometimes massive (over 50cm excessive), generally life-size, though there are additionally some small ones (20–50cm in peak). Varied strains of proof counsel the figures most definitely date to between 6,000 to 9,400 years of age.

Arnhem Land Maliwawa rock artwork

Animal-human relationships

Within the Maliwawa work, human figures are often depicted with animals, particularly macropods (kangaroos and wallabies), and these animal-human relationships look like central to the artists’ message. In some cases, animals nearly look like collaborating in or watching some human exercise.

One other key theme is a male or indeterminate human determine holding an animal, usually a snake, or one other human determine or an object.

Such scenes are uncommon in early rock artwork, not simply in Australia however worldwide. They supply a outstanding glimpse into previous Aboriginal life and cultural beliefs.

Maliwawa animals are normally in profile. Some macropods are proven in a human-like sitting pose with paws in entrance, resembling an individual taking part in a piano. Depictions of animal tracks (footprints) and geometric designs are uncommon.

A painting from Namunidjbuk shows two male Maliwawas with ball headdresses reaching down to a shorter human figure with a snake behind the male on the right and behind the left male a female and a macropod. A human figure with a cone and feather headdress is above.



A portray from Namunidjbuk exhibits two male Maliwawas with ball headdresses reaching right down to a shorter human determine with a snake behind the male on the appropriate and behind the left male a feminine and a macropod. A human determine with a cone and feather headdress is above. {Photograph}: Paul SC Taçon

Macropods, birds, snakes and longtom fish are probably the most frequent animal topics, comprising three-quarters of whole fauna. However, extra typically, mammals are most typical.

There are seven depictions of animals lengthy extinct within the Arnhem Land area, consisting of 4 thylacines and three bilby-like creatures. At one Namunidjbuk website there’s a uncommon depiction of a dugong.

A 3rd of human depictions had been categorized as male as a result of they’ve male genitalia depicted. Females, recognized as a result of breasts had been proven, are uncommon, comprising solely 5% of human depictions. Nearly 59% of human figures couldn’t be decided to be both male or feminine as a result of they lack sex-specific traits.

Human figures typically have round-shaped or oval-shaped heads; some have strains on the top suggestive of hair. Thirty per cent of human figures are proven with headdresses, of which there are 10 totally different kinds. The commonest is a ball headdress, adopted by oval, cone and feather.

Maliwawa males are normally in profile and infrequently have a bulging abdomen above a penis. A number of Maliwawa females are additionally proven with an prolonged stomach.

Nationwide significance

Most Maliwawa Figures are in accessible or seen locations at low panorama elevations somewhat than hidden away, or at shelters excessive within the panorama. This implies they had been meant to be seen, presumably from far. Usually, Maliwawa Figures dominate shelter partitions with rows of figures in numerous preparations.

We first discovered a few of these figures throughout a survey in 2008-2009 however they grew to become the main target of additional subject analysis from 2016 to 2018.

In Australia, we’re spoiled with rock artwork – work, drawings, stencils, prints, petroglyphs (engravings) and even designs produced from native beeswax in rock shelters and small caves, on boulders and rock platforms. Usually in spectacular and spiritually vital landscapes, rock artwork stays crucial to First Nation communities as part of residing tradition.

There are as many as 100,000 websites right here, representing tens of hundreds of years of creative exercise. However even in 2020, new kinds are being recognized for the primary time.

What if the Maliwawa Figures had been in France? Absolutely, they’d be the topic of nationwide pleasure with totally different ranges of presidency working collectively to make sure their safety and researchers endeavouring to higher perceive and defend them.

We should not permit Australia’s abundance of rock artwork to result in a nationwide ambivalence in the direction of its appreciation and safety.

The Maliwawa Figures reveal how way more we’ve got to study from Australia’s early artists. And who is aware of what else is on the market ready to be discovered.

Paul SC Taçon is chair in rock artwork analysis and director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Artwork Heritage Unit at Griffith College. Sally Ok Could is a senior analysis fellow at Griffith College.

This text first appeared on the Dialog. You may learn the unique article right here.


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