Information

Ancient Lifeforms and Odd Humans Depicted in Maliwawa Rock Art


The timeworn relationship between humans and animals has been found depicted on 570 ancient paintings discovered within 87 rock shelters in Western Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. In the journal Australian Archaeology , Professor Paul Taçon, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Griffith University Chair in Rock Art Research, has published a new paper which claims that Australian rock art sites rival those in Europe, southern Africa and various parts of Asia. The new discoveries consist primarily of large human figures and animals in a style known as Maliwawa Figures.

Another example of Maliwawa rock art was discovered at the Awunbarna site showing an indeterminate Maliwawa human with lines suggestive of hair all over its body. (P. Taçon / Australian Archaeology )

Animal-Human Relationship as Central Theme in Maliwawa Rock Art

Every year new artworks are being discovered by Aboriginal communities . Maliwawa Figures are generally made with shades of red paint depicting human and animal forms, in which shaded areas are achieved with stroked angled lines, an attempt by ancient designers to add a three dimensional aspect to their art. The 570 newly discovered paintings depict human figures wearing headdresses. The figures measure between 20 and 50 centimeters high (7.7 to 12.6 inches). Professor Taçon explains that they were executed between “6,000 to 9,400 years ago,” representing “a missing link” between the well-known early-style Dynamic Figures from about 12,000 years ago, and X-ray figures made in the past 4000 years.

The Maliwawa art depicts groups of human figures with animals, with 42% making up the former. The animal-human relationship is a central theme in this ancient art, explains the new paper. Furthermore, the frequency and variability of headdresses suggests that some of the art might have ceremonial significance. "The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals," expands Dr. Taçon in Science Alert .

The research team discovered what appears to be a pair of Maliwawa rock art depictions of two back-to-back bilbies at the Awunbarna site. Taçon / Australian Archaeology )

Identifying Unknown Species from a Lost World

What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new artworks has been the discovery of what appear to be bilbies. According to co-author Dr. Sally K. May, from Griffith University's Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit, these bilbies are generally associated with arid and semi-arid environments far to the south. “Arnhem Land has not been within their range in historic times,” she explains in an EurekAlert! article. However, there still exists the possibility that these depictions are actually Agile Wallabies, Northern Nailtail Wallabies or Short-eared Rock-wallabies, but she continues to explain that the confusion arises because all of these species have much shorter ears and snouts than the other extant bilbies depicted at Awunbarna arts.

The identification of what the researchers describe as “oldest know depiction of a dugong” has also raised questions within the team. The solitary context in which it was found “seems out of place,” explains Dr. May, because it was found about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) south of the Arafura Sea. Add to this that around 6000 to 9400 years ago the coast would have been much further north. This observation indicates that maybe one of the Maliwawa artists had visited the coast. However, in Phys.org, the archaeologists assert that having discovered no other carvings of marine life, such a voyage “was not a frequent occurrence.”

The Animals of Australian Culture in Maliwawa Rock Art

Some of the artworks depict large back-to-back macropods, bilbies and humans, with small spaces between them. These are “the oldest known examples” ever discovered in western Arnhem Land. What's more, it was also determined that this group of Maliwawan rock art was probably created sporadically in a short period of time by only a couple artists, “with one responsible for the more outline forms with minimal infill and another creating much of the fuller stroke-line infill examples,” the paper explains.

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Taçon concludes that the particular style of Maliwawa rock art has “implications for rock art research everywhere in Australia.” This style of depiction is suggested to have been made over hundreds of years or millennia. Speaking about what this discovery might mean in modern Australian culture, The Guardian says there are as many as “100,000 ancient sites” in this one region of Maliwawa, representing “tens of thousands of years of artistic activity.” With such an overwhelming abundance of indigenous rock art being discovered, a newfound appreciation of indigenous history might be seeded. Hopefully this will encourage the funding required for the protection of such sites within Australia.


    New Human Ancestor Species Discovered… And it had a Tail!

    A multi-disciplinary and multi-national team of archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists in Siberia have announced the sensational discovery of a new hominid species that interbred with our own species, Homo sapiens, leaving genetic traces that can be seen in living people today spanning the Ukraine and Russia and down through Mongolia, Korea, and China. The most shocking aspect of the finding is that this species had a visible tail, an archaic remnant of its evolution from primates millions of years ago.

    The discovery was announced by British paleoanthropologist John Bennett on 1st April, who stated “This could be the most significant discovery in human origins research in 100 years!”

    Scientists found fragments of bone deep in a cave in Siberia in April of last year, including parts of the pelvic bone, tailbone, a femur, and a lower jaw fragment. They first believed the fossils belonged to early Modern Humans dating back approximately 50,000 years, as Homo sapiens are known to have inhabited the same area around that time. However, DNA analysis revealed that the bones belonged to a distinct species, which has now been named Homo apriliensis after the month in which it was first found.

    An illustration depicting a human-like creature with a tail (public domain)


    Arnhem Land Maliwawa rock art opens window to past

    Stunning Arnhem Land rock art images including three rare depictions of bilbies and a dugong have been described by researchers in a new paper in Australian Archaeology today (Oct 1).

    Led by Professor Paul Taçon, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Griffith University Chair in Rock Art Research, the team documented 572 previously unknown images ranging in age from 6000 to 9400 years from 87 sites from 2008 to 2018.

    Named Maliwawa Figures, they are found in northwest Arnhem Land and recorded at sites from Awunbarna (Mount Borradaile area) to the Namunidjbuk clan estate of the Wellington Range.

    The Maliwawa images include large (over 50cm high, sometimes life-size) naturalistic humans and macropods with animals more often depicted than human figures. Painted in various shades of red with stroke-infill or outline forms with a few red strokes as infill, they are shown with little material culture other than various forms of headdresses.

    Professor Taçon said the rock art provided a window into the past and showed us what people were doing at this time. "They're a missing link between the well-known early-style Dynamic Figures, about 12,000 years of age, and X-ray figures made in the past 4000 years."

    "Maliwawas are depicted as solitary figures and as part of group scenes showing various activities and some may have a ceremonial context. Human figures are frequently depicted with animals, especially macropods, and these animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists' message," he said.

    He also said the Maliwawa Figures and scenes were not just simple depictions of everyday life.

    "The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals.

    "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."

    Professor Taçon said in some images animals almost appeared to be participating in or watching some human activity.

    "This occurrence, and the frequency and variability of headdresses, suggests a ritual context for some of the production of Maliwawa rock art.

    Co-author Dr Sally K. May from Griffith University's Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit said the discovery of what appear to be depictions of 'bilbies' at an Awunbarna site was surprising.

    "Bilbies are associated with arid and semi-arid environments far to the south and Arnhem Land has not been within their range in historic times,'' she said.

    "Two of these animals are back-to-back and almost identical in size. The third bilby-like depiction appears to have been made at a different time, and perhaps by a different artist, as it is larger, has a longer snout, has more line infill, and is in a lighter shade of red.

    "There is also the possibility that the depictions are of Agile Wallabies, Northern Nailtail Wallabies or Short-eared Rock-wallabies, all widespread across Kakadu-Arnhem Land today, but all of these species have much shorter ears and snouts than extant bilbies and the creatures depicted at Awunbarna."

    The researchers also recorded the oldest know depiction of a dugong.

    "The solitary dugong painting also seems out of place,'' Dr May said.

    "Today it is located about 15 kilometres south of the Arafura Sea but 6000-9400 years ago the coast would have been further north. It indicates a Maliwawa artist visited the coast but the lack of other saltwater fauna may suggest this was not a frequent occurrence."

    At some sites there are two large macropods shown back-to-back with a small space between them. There are also some back-to-back human figures and the back-to-back 'bilbies'.

    "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,'' Professor Taçon said.

    "But was the Maliwawa rock art sporadic and made during a short time period or did it continue over a long period of time?

    He said they could not rule out the possibility that Maliwawa rock paintings were produced by a small number of artists. It is even possible only a couple artists made most of the paintings, with one responsible for the more outline forms with minimal infill and another creating much of the fuller stroke-line infill examples.

    "At the same time, much art produced after the Maliwawa style demonstrates a remarkable consistency in the manner of depiction and a significant increase in the standardisation of some subject matter such as X-ray fish.

    "So, perhaps what we are observing is increasing standardisation in the manner of depiction after the period in which Dynamic Figures were made. This has implications for rock art research everywhere in which a style or manner of depiction is suggested to have been made over hundreds of years or millennia."

    Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.


    Harmony Between Humans And Nature Depicted In Prehistoric Australian Cave Art.

    A completely new style of ancient cave art has been documented in the wilderness of Arnhem Land, a historical region located in the north of the Australian continent. In many of these cave arts, archaeologists have deciphered and documented the depiction of harmony between humans and nature.

    Scientists and local Aboriginal researchers have discovered about 87 rock shelters from Awunbarna to the Namunidjbuk estates in the Wellington range. These rock shelters house unusually tall cave paintings. Some of these paintings are said to be even larger than life.

    Stretching over 130 kilometres, this ever-expanding outdoor gallery contains about 572 individual pieces of art. All of these pieces exert a strong emphasis on the natural world and humanity’s place within it.

    First discovered in 2008, the compositions and the diverse subjects of this type of cave arts are significantly different from any other form of ancient art discovered in the region.

    Paul Taçon, an anthropologist from Australia’s Griffith University said, “Human figures are frequently depicted with animals. Especially macropods, and these animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists’ message. The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals.”

    Taçon also informed that there is a missing link between the well-known early-style Dynamic Figures, about 12,000 years of age, and X-ray figures made in the past 4,000 years.

    Compared to the Dynamic Figures, these new Maliwawa Figures, focus more on animals. The new name ‘Maliwawa’ has been given by an Aboriginal elder Ronald Lamilami, in their local Mawng language. Mr. Lamilami is also one of the authors of the paper which was published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

    Comparisons to other regional styles as well as intensive radiocarbon tests suggest that these cave art panoramas were created between 6,000 to 9,400 years ago.

    Unlike just dynamic figures, back-to-back figure composition was observed as a key element in the Maliwawa Figures. A painting of two Bilbies facing away from one another, suggests that the later Aboriginal cave art first began with these figures.

    The fact that Bilbies were not found in the region where the paintings were discovered, suggests that early Aboriginals did travel extensively. One of the paintings also features the oldest known depiction of a Dugong. If the painting was 9,000 years old, the Aboriginals might have travelled at least 90 km towards the oceanic coast.

    In similarity to the dynamic figures, the humans in the Malawawi figures featured headdresses, suggesting some sort of sacred ceremony. However, unlike many other forms of art discovered earlier, these human figures were seen with only 4 items: headdresses, spears, bags, and a boomerang.

    According to the authors, these patterns indicate a shift in iconographic emphasis for communicating with rock art away from material culture in favour of animals.


    Large male Maliwawa human figures from anAwunbarna site. The largest male is 1.15 meters wide by 1.95 meters high.

    Stunning Arnhem Land rock art images including three rare depictions of bilbies and a dugong have been described by researchers in a new paper in Australian Archaeology this week.

    Led by Professor Paul Taçon, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Griffith University Chair in Rock Art Research, the team documented 572 previously unknown images ranging in age from 6000 to 9400 years from 87 sites from 2008 to 2018.

    Named Maliwawa Figures, they are found in northwest Arnhem Land and recorded at sites from Awunbarna (Mount Borradaile area) to the Namunidjbuk clan estate of the Wellington Range.

    The Maliwawa images include large (over 50cm high, sometimes life-size) naturalistic humans and macropods with animals more often depicted than human figures. Painted in various shades of red with stroke-infill or outline forms with a few red strokes as infill, they are shown with little material culture other than various forms of headdresses.

    Professor Taçon said the rock art provided a window into the past and showed us what people were doing at this time. "They're a missing link between the well-known early-style Dynamic Figures, about 12,000 years of age, and X-ray figures made in the past 4000 years."

    "Maliwawas are depicted as solitary figures and as part of group scenes showing various activities and some may have a ceremonial context. Human figures are frequently depicted with animals, especially macropods, and these animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists' message," he said.

    He also said the Maliwawa Figures and scenes were not just simple depictions of everyday life.

    "The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals.

    Indeterminate Maliwawa human with lines suggestiveof hair all over its body, Awunbarna

    "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."

    Professor Taçon said in some images animals almost appeared to be participating in or watching some human activity.

    "This occurrence, and the frequency and variability of headdresses, suggests a ritual context for some of the production of Maliwawa rock art.

    Co-author Dr. Sally K. May from Griffith University's Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit said the discovery of what appear to be depictions of 'bilbies' at an Awunbarna site was surprising.

    "Bilbies are associated with arid and semi-arid environments far to the south and Arnhem Land has not been within their range in historic times,'' she said.

    "Two of these animals are back-to-back and almost identical in size. The third bilby-like depiction appears to have been made at a different time, and perhaps by a different artist, as it is larger, has a longer snout, has more line infill, and is in a lighter shade of red.

    "There is also the possibility that the depictions are of Agile Wallabies, Northern Nailtail Wallabies or Short-eared Rock-wallabies, all widespread across Kakadu-Arnhem Land today, but all of these species have much shorter ears and snouts than extant bilbies and the creatures depicted at Awunbarna."

    The researchers also recorded the oldest know depiction of a dugong.

    Maliwawa macropod over 3MFC hand stencil, Namunidjbuk.

    "The solitary dugong painting also seems out of place,'' Dr. May said.

    "Today it is located about 15 kilometers south of the Arafura Sea but 6000-9400 years ago the coast would have been further north. It indicates a Maliwawa artist visited the coast but the lack of other saltwater fauna may suggest this was not a frequent occurrence."

    At some sites there are two large macropods shown back-to-back with a small space between them. There are also some back-to-back human figures and the back-to-back 'bilbies'.

    "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,'' Professor Taçon said.

    "But was the Maliwawa rock art sporadic and made during a short time period or did it continue over a long period of time?

    He said they could not rule out the possibility that Maliwawa rock paintings were produced by a small number of artists. It is even possible only a couple artists made most of the paintings, with one responsible for the more outline forms with minimal infill and another creating much of the fuller stroke-line infill examples.

    "At the same time, much art produced after the Maliwawa style demonstrates a remarkable consistency in the manner of depiction and a significant increase in the standardization of some subject matter such as X-ray fish.

    "So, perhaps what we are observing is increasing standardization in the manner of depiction after the period in which Dynamic Figures were made. This has implications for rock art research everywhere in which a style or manner of depiction is suggested to have been made over hundreds of years or millennia."

    More information: Australian Archaeology, DOI: 10.1080/03122417.2020.18183


    Kangaroo man

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      In between the Muliwawa man and kangaroo in this painting is a half kangaroo/half man figure.

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        Outlines show the shapes of the four figure in the Maliwawa painting

        "One of my favourites is of this huge Maliwawa figure [in the image above] with a very elaborate headdress that's reaching out to a huge kangaroo on one side of it and a large bird, probably an emu on the other side."

        In between the kangaroo and the human is a therianthrope — a being with the head of a kangaroo and the body of a human.

        "It's almost like there's a story of transformation from the original kangaroo ancestors to part kangaroo/part human beings to human beings," Professor Tacon said.


        Contents

        The term rock art appears in the published literature as early as the 1940s. [3] [4] It has also been described as "rock carvings", [5] "rock drawings", [6] "rock engravings", [7] "rock inscriptions", [8] "rock paintings", [9] "rock pictures", [10] "rock records", [11] and "rock sculptures. [12] [13]

        Parietal art is a term for art in caves, the definition usually extended to art in rock shelters under cliff overhangs. Popularly, it is called "cave art", and is a subset of the wider term, rock art. It is mostly on rock walls, but may be on ceilings and floors. A wide variety of techniques have been used in its creation. The term usually is applied only to prehistoric art, but it may be used for art of any date. [14] Sheltered parietal art has had a far better chance of surviving for very long periods, and what now survives may represent only a very small proportion of what was created. [15]

        Both parietal and cave art refer to cave paintings, drawings, etchings, carvings, and pecked artwork on the interior of caves and rock shelters. Generally, these either are engraved (essentially meaning scratched) or painted, or, they are created using a combination of the two techniques. [16] Parietal art is found very widely throughout the world, and in many places new examples are being discovered.

        The defining characteristic of rock art is that it is placed on natural rock surfaces in this way it is distinct from artworks placed on constructed walls or free-standing sculpture. [17] As such, rock art is a form of landscape art, and includes designs that have been placed on boulder and cliff faces, cave walls, and ceilings, and on the ground surface. [17] Rock art is a global phenomenon, being found in many different regions of the world. [1] There are various forms of rock art. Some archaeologists also consider pits and grooves in the rock known as cupules, or cups or rings, as a form of rock art. [17]

        Although there are exceptions, the majority of rock art whose creation was recorded by ethnographers had been produced during rituals. [17] As such, the study of rock art is a component of the archaeology of religion. [18]

        Rock art serves multiple purposes in the contemporary world. In several regions, it remains spiritually important to indigenous peoples, who view it as a significant component of their cultural heritage. [1] It also serves as an important source of cultural tourism, and hence as economic revenue in certain parts of the world. As such, images taken from cave art have appeared on memorabilia and other artefacts sold as a part of the tourist industry. [2]

        Paintings Edit

        In most climates, only paintings in sheltered site, in particular caves, have survived for any length of time. Therefore these are usually called "cave paintings", although many do survive in "rock-shelters" or cliff-faces under an overhang. In prehistoric times these were often popular places for various human purposes, providing some shelter from the weather, as well as light. There may have been many more paintings in more exposed sites, that are now lost. Pictographs are paintings or drawings that have been placed onto the rock face. Such artworks have typically been made with mineral earths and other natural compounds found across much of the world. The predominantly used colours are red, black and white. Red paint is usually attained through the use of ground ochre, while black paint is typically composed of charcoal, or sometimes from minerals such as manganese. White paint is usually created from natural chalk, kaolinite clay or diatomaceous earth. [19] Once the pigments had been obtained, they would be ground and mixed with a liquid, such as water, blood, urine, or egg yolk, and then applied to the stone as paint using a brush, fingers, or a stamp. Alternately, the pigment could have been applied on dry, such as with a stick of charcoal. [20] In some societies, the paint itself has symbolic and religious meaning for instance, among hunter-gatherer groups in California, paint was only allowed to be traded by the group shamans, while in other parts of North America, the word for "paint" was the same as the word for "supernatural spirit". [21]

        One common form of pictograph, found in many, although not all rock-art producing cultures, is the hand print. There are three forms of this the first involves covering the hand in wet paint and then applying it to the rock. The second involves a design being painted onto the hand, which is then in turn added to the surface. The third involves the hand first being placed against the panel, with dry paint then being blown onto it through a tube, in a process that is akin to air-brush or spray-painting. The resulting image is a negative print of the hand, and is sometimes described as a "stencil" in Australian archaeology. [22] Miniature stencilled art has been found at two locations in Australia and one in Indonesia.

        Petroglyphs Edit

        Petroglyphs are engravings or carvings into rock which is left in situ. They can be created with a range of scratching, engraving or carving techniques, often with the use of a hard hammerstone, which is battered against the stone surface. In certain societies, the choice of hammerstone itself has religious significance. [23] In other instances, the rock art is pecked out through indirect percussion, as a second rock is used like a chisel between the hammerstone and the panel. [23] A third, rarer form of engraving rock art was through incision, or scratching, into the surface of the stone with a lithic flake or metal blade. The motifs produced using this technique are fine-lined and often difficult to see. [24]

        Rock reliefs Edit

        Normally found in literate cultures, a rock relie or rock-cut relief is a relief sculpture carved on solid or "living rock" such as a cliff, rather than a detached piece of stone. They are a category of rock art, and sometimes found in conjunction with rock-cut architecture. [25] However, they tend to be omitted in most works on rock art, which concentrate on engravings and paintings by prehistoric peoples. A few such works exploit the natural contours of the rock and use them to define an image, but they do not amount to man-made reliefs. Rock reliefs have been made in many cultures, and were especially important in the art of the Ancient Near East. [26] Rock reliefs are generally fairly large, as they need to be to make an impact in the open air. Most have figures that are over life-size, and in many the figures are multiples of life-size.

        Stylistically they normally relate to other types of sculpture from the culture and period concerned, and except for Hittite and Persian examples they are generally discussed as part of that wider subject. [27] The vertical relief is most common, but reliefs on essentially horizontal surfaces are also found. The term typically excludes relief carvings inside caves, whether natural or themselves man-made, which are especially found in India. Natural rock formations made into statues or other sculpture in the round, most famously at the Great Sphinx of Giza, are also usually excluded. Reliefs on large boulders left in their natural location, like the Hittite İmamkullu relief, are likely to be included, but smaller boulders may be called stelae or carved orthostats.

        Earth figures Edit

        Earth figures are large designs and motifs that are created on the stone ground surface. They can be classified through their method of manufacture. [28] Intaglios are created by scraping away the desert pavements (pebbles covering the ground) to reveal a negative image on the bedrock below. The best known example of such intaglio rock art is the Nazca Lines of Peru. [28] In contrast, geoglyphs are positive images, which are created by piling up rocks on the ground surface to resulting in a visible motif or design. [28]

        Traditionally, individual markings are called motifs and groups of motifs are known as panels. Sequences of panels are treated as archaeological sites. This method of classifying rock art however has become less popular as the structure imposed is unlikely to have had any relevance to the art's creators. Even the word 'art' carries with it many modern prejudices about the purpose of the features. [ citation needed ]

        Rock art can be found across a wide geographical and temporal spread of cultures perhaps to mark territory, to record historical events or stories or to help enact rituals. Some art seems to depict real events whilst many other examples are apparently entirely abstract. [ citation needed ]

        Prehistoric rock depictions were not purely descriptive. Each motif and design had a "deep significance" that is not always understandable to modern scholars. [29]

        Religious interpretations Edit

        In many instances, the creation of rock art was itself a ritual act. [24]

        Europe Edit

        In the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe, rock art was produced inside cave systems by the hunter-gatherer peoples who inhabited the continent. The oldest known example is the Chauvet Cave in France, although others have been located, including Lascaux in France, Alta Mira in Spain and Creswell Crags in Britain and Grotta del Genovese in Sicily.

        The late prehistoric rock art of Europe has been divided into three regions by archaeologists. In Atlantic Europe, the coastal seaboard on the west of the continent, which stretches from Iberia up through France and encompasses the British Isles, a variety of different rock arts were produced from the Neolithic through to the Late Bronze Age. A second area of the continent to contain a significant rock art tradition was that of Alpine Europe, with the majority of artworks being clustered in the southern slopes of the mountainous region, in what is now south-eastern France and northern Italy.


        Breathtaking Discovery of Australian Cave Art Shows Nature And Humans in Harmony

        It's no surprise that Australia, home to the oldest continuous human culture on Earth, holds 100,000 rock art sites from prehistoric times. And we're still finding more.

        An entirely new style of ancient art has now been documented dotting the vast wilderness of Arnhem Land, a historical region in the continent's north.

        From Awunbarna (also known as Mount Borradaile) all the way to the Namunidjbuk clan estate of the Wellington Range, scientists and local Aboriginal research partners have found 87 rock shelters housing unusually tall cave paintings, some of which are larger than life.

        The expansive outdoor gallery, which stretches over 130 kilometres (80 or so miles), contains 572 individual pieces, each of which puts a strong emphasis on the natural world and humanity's place within it.

        "Human figures are frequently depicted with animals," says anthropologist Paul Taçon, "especially macropods, and these animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists' message."

        (Tacon et al., Australian Archaeology, 2020)

        Above: A male Maliwawa human figure with cone and feather headdress (1.44 metres tall) reaches out to a large bird with one hand and a large macropod with the other (possibly an emu and kangaroo).

        Discovered for the first time in 2008, these unusual scenes and compositions with their diverse subject matter look remarkably different to other ancient art discovered in the region.

        Compared to older cave art depictions, including the style known as Dynamic Figures, the newly named Maliwawa Figures are less focused on humans, and more on animals. In fact, only about 42 percent of the paintings are of humans, roughly half the percentage found in Dynamic Figures.

        "The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals," says Taçon, who works at Griffith University in Australia.

        "They're a missing link between the well-known early-style Dynamic Figures, about 12,000 years of age, and X-ray figures made in the past 4,000 years," he adds

        The red ochre and mulberry strokes are not as filled in and detailed as later X-ray cave art - named so because internal structures of animals and human figures are made visible - but unlike Dynamic Figures, the humans are more stagnant and less expressive, appearing to almost float in space surrounded by an "unearthly aura".

        One of the paper's authors, Namunidjbuk elder Ronald Lamilami, named the new style in his local Mawng language after an area within his traditional clan estate. Hence, they will be known as the Maliwawa Figures.

        (P. Taçon)

        Above: Large male Maliwawa human figures from an Awunbarna site. The largest male is 1.95 metres tall.

        Figuring out when they were drawn is tricky. Was this an art style that lasted for a long period of time, or was it the signature of one prolific local artist?

        Radiocarbon dating and comparison to other regional styles suggests it was made sometime between 6,000 and 9,400 years ago, although judging by the fauna depicted, researchers say the true age is probably on the later side.

        Back-to-back figures, whether human or animal, are not found in Dynamic Figure cave art, but in the Maliwawa Figures, this composition was common.

        Two bilbies, for instance, are painted facing away from one another, and this could suggest the back-to-back style of later Aboriginal cave art began with the Maliwawa figures.

        (P. Taçon)

        Above: Two Maliwawa style depictions of back-to-back animals more similar to bilbies than any known Arnhem Land creature, roughly 0.5 metres high.

        The bilbies are remarkable for another reason, too. These creatures are usually found in arid and semi-arid environments much further to the south, and this indicates extensive travel by early Aboriginal communities.

        Nor was this the only animal seemingly out of place. This expansive inland collection also contains the oldest known depiction of a dugong.

        If this particular art piece was drawn closer to 9,000 years ago, researchers say it would have required a 90 kilometre trek to the ocean.

        Maliwawa dugong above and to the left of a small Maliwawa macropod. (P. Taçon).

        "The dugong painting indicates a Maliwawa artist visited the coast," the authors write, "but the lack of other saltwater fauna may suggest this was not a frequent occurrence."

        Bruno David, a rock art expert who was not involved in the study, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) he agreed the Maliwawa figures represent a new art style, not before seen, but he cautions against making too many assumptions.

        "While there's something that looks like a bilby to us, it could be the convention of the day that wallabies were painted with thin ears rather than wider ears," he said.

        Even the human figures sometimes blurred the lines of species. One figure was depicted with many lines covering its skin, a possible suggestion of hair, while another figure seemed to have an animal head.

        Similar to Dynamic Figures, Maliwawa humans were often featured with headdresses, which suggests some sort of sacred ceremony.

        Still, unlike older depictions, Maliwawa humans were not shown with nearly as many materials. In fact, across all the hundreds of images, only four items showed up: headdresses, spears, bags, and a boomerang.

        "These patterns indicate a shift in iconographic emphasis for communicating with rock art away from material culture in favour of animals," the authors write.


        Stunning ancient Australian rock art shows local images over 6000 years ago

        The images depict a range of animals and humans, often in ceremonial contexts, with some of them over 50 cm in size.

        In a paper published Thursday, experts catalogued 572 images across 87 sites in Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory, ranging in age from 6000 to 9400 years old, and named them the Maliwawa Figures.

        "Human figures are frequently depicted with animals, especially macropods, and these animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists' message," said lead author Professor Paul Taçon, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Griffith University Chair in Rock Art Research.

        "The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals."

        Early inhabitants of the region would have lived a primarily hunter-gatherer lifestyle, placing them in constant contact with nature and reliant on local flora and fauna for survival.

        It is believed that the indigenous people have occupied the Australian continent for at least 50,000 years, with Arnhem Land yielding some of the oldest sites on record.

        Taçon described the Maliwawa Figures as a "missing link" between earlier and better known examples of cave drawings, from around 12,000 years ago, and those created within the past 4,000 years.

        Amongst the images is also the oldest known depiction of a dugong, a large marine mammal -- a surprising find for researchers given the distance of the rock walls from the ocean, which would have been even further away when the images were created.

        "Today it is located about 15 km south of the Arafura Sea but 6000 to 9400 years ago the coast would have been further north," said co-author Sally K. May from Griffith University's Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit.

        "It indicates a Maliwawa artist visited the coast but the lack of other saltwater fauna may suggest this was not a frequent occurrence."

        The team is unsure whether the images were created by a small group of artists, or represent a larger movement in terms of a style which was carried out by a number of the clans in the region over an extended period of time.


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