Visions from the Past: The Archaeology of Australian Aboriginal Art

By M. J. Morwood; D. R. Hobbs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Australian Aboriginal
rock art

Australia is the rock art capital of the world. It has many thousands of sites, with huge variation between regions and over time in motif range, technique, style and context. All areas of Australia with suitable rock surfaces have rock art, although in some (such as Victoria and southeastern Queensland), the number of known sites is small, while others (such as western Arnhem Land, the Kimberley, the Pilbara, southeastern Cape York, the central Queensland highlands and the Sydney Basin) have enormous numbers of rock art sites of national significance.

In a few remote areas rock art is still occasionally done by Aboriginal people, but in most areas its production ceased soon after European contact. This means we have little or no direct evidence on its meaning, either because the early European settlers failed to record relevant ethnographic information (as in Sydney), or because the rock art tradition is of considerable antiquity (as in the Bradshaw art of the Kimberley).

Art was a feature of Aboriginal life right from the time people first colonized this continent. Used pigment fragments excavated from Malakunanja II in western Arnhem Land show that Aboriginal painting has a minimum antiquity of between 52000 and 61000 years. More specifically, as we have seen, excavated evidence from Carpenter's Gap site in the southern Kimberley shows that rock painting was being done in Australia at least 39 700 years ago. At present this is the oldest evidence for rock painting in the world.

-37-

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Visions from the Past: The Archaeology of Australian Aboriginal Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chapter 1 - Aboriginal Archaeology in Context 1
  • Chapter 2 - Australian Aboriginal Rock Art 37
  • Chapter 3 - Australian Rock Art Research 64
  • Chapter 4 - How We Study Australian Aboriginal Rock Art 89
  • Chapter 5 - A Question of Time: Dating Australian Rock Art 118
  • Chapter 6 - Subject Analyses 148
  • Chapter 7 - Structural Analyses 177
  • Chapter 8 - Central Queensland Highlands 205
  • Chapter 9 - North Queensland Highlands 231
  • Chapter 10 - Southeast Cape York Peninsula 255
  • Chapter 11 - A Future for the Past: Conservation of Rock Art 276
  • Concluding Remarks 306
  • Glossary 309
  • Notes 320
  • Bibliography 324
  • Index 340
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