In Australia, a team of researchers have made some dramatic new findings regarding one of the world’s most important rock art assemblages. This Aboriginal rock art is among the very few examples of miniature motifs found anywhere in the world. The study used ethnographic studies and experimental archaeology in innovative ways to understand the art and its social and cultural role in indigenous Australian society.
The globally important artworks are in the Yilbilinji Rockshelter in the Limmen National Park, Northern Territories, Australia. A team of anthropologists worked with park rangers and members of the Marra Aboriginal people to survey the rock art. The cave is owned by the Marra group and it has traditionally played a very important role in their history and beliefs.
Important Rock Art Images
In 2017, the researchers surveyed over 300 images, including paintings, prints and stencils. What intrigued the team were the seventeen miniature stenciled motifs that were “created using a white spray and are located in the right hand and the center of the shelter,” reports Antiquity. They are extremely rare and only two other assemblages have been found, one also in Australia and another in Indonesia.
The images include some four doll-like human figures, one with a shield and the rest with boomerangs. There are also some images of long-necked turtles and their tracks and a crab. There are also some geometric designs such as wavy lines. A European pipe has also been identified. All of these motifs are common in indigenous Australian art. Dr. Liam Brady who took part in the study told Ancient Origins that “they would probably be no more than 400-500 years old, but this is only speculative and requires detailed work.”
The Mystery of the Motifs
An Antiquity Press Release states that “indigenous Australians have stenciled full-size body parts, animals, and objects to make art for millennia.” The miniature rock art is too small to have been made in this way and this prompted the team to investigate how they were made. The team used experimental archaeology to replicate the methods used to create the tiny images.
A stencil was used to create the images and paint made “from Kaolin clay and water was applied to a paintbrush and flicked over and around the mode,” reports Antiquity. The researchers noted that most of the assemblage “comprised of motifs with well-rounded or curved edges,” according to Antiquity. It appears that some malleable substance was used to form the stencils.