Academic journal article Rock Art Research

The Little-Known Fitzmaurice Region 'Wine-Red' Pictograms

Academic journal article Rock Art Research

The Little-Known Fitzmaurice Region 'Wine-Red' Pictograms

Article excerpt

Observations of apparent similarity between aspects of the rock art of the Kimberley and Arnhem Land regions of northern Australia have been reported by many writers; inevitably there have been suggestions of cultural connections between the two (Fig. 1). Some have pointed to the problem of lack of evidence of geographical continuity in the intervening country.

In his 1988 monograph, Darrell Lewis included a detailed analysis of the similarities between some elements of Arnhem Land and Kimberley pictograms. He advanced the idea that both regions '... were once part of a single late Pleistocene/early Holocene information network which led to the styles in each region sharing many similar attributes, though having a regionally distinctive character' (1988: 8L-84). Lewis centred his analysis in the relatively well-researched Arnhem Land region and his own extensive field studies there; he had to work with a more limited suite of information from the Kimberley.

A few years later, the publication of Grahame Walsh's illustrated book of Kimberley pictograms (1994) provided Lewis with an opportunity to revisit the matter of a connection in the rock art of the two regions. He noted that Walsh had addressed only cursorily the matter of a possible link and that he appeared to think that the two had developed independently. Lewis thought that the new data strengthened the case for a direct link between the two regions, and set out to examine Walsh's complex Kimberley sequence, to compare it to that of Arnhem Land and to explore systematically the similarities and differences (Lewis 1997). Lewis became sceptical of Walsh's relative chronology based on superimpositions, and noted many problems and inconsistencies (1997:4):

How he was able to determine which apparent super-impositions were correct and which were wrong is not adequately explained ... many of the different styles and sub-styles he identifies and places in consecutive order may have been contemporary or near contemporary. Superimpositions of paintings in a single style occur in other art regions, so if more than one style was being produced at one time, these too could be found superimposed, with no meaningful time difference between them - Third, it is difficult to accept some figures as belonging in the period Walsh places them in Walsh appears to be sceptical of this sequence himself....

Nevertheless, despite inconsistencies and numerous instances of self-contradiction in the definition of Walsh's descriptions and chronology (1997: 5), Lewis found that some '... periods are marked by the appearance or disappearance of technological items and ... it is this level of classification which provides the best basis for a comparison of Kimberley art with Arnhem Land art'. It was these technological attributes of the imagery that he considered the most secure basis for his 1988 re-delineation of the Arnhem Land sequence.

Lewis concluded (1988: 84) that, '... stylistically, "classic" Bradshaws [Kimberley] are quite different from Dynamics [Arnhem Land] - no one could mistake one for the other - but there are nevertheless too many common elements to be considered mere coincidence'. As well as both being characterised by depictions of relatively small (usually < lm), finely executed monochrome red figures, among the common characteristics are that 'Both sets of figures carry boomerangs, but do not have spearthrowers' (1997:9). The images that Walsh called 'Clothes Peg Figures' Lewis emphasised as being marked by distinctive weaponry, style and colours, and painting techniques: 'Foremost is the appearance of a 'hooked stick' artefact____Virtually identical weapons first appear in the Arnhem Land sequence in the "Hooked Stick Period" '; other common items are the boomerang and multi-barbed spear (1997: 10-11). In summary, Lewis wrote (1997:13-14),

Parallels between early rock art in the Kimberley and in Arnhem Land are striking, both for resemblances in styles, subject matter, and themes, and for the parallel changes that took place. …

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