Aboriginal Rock Art

Rock art consists of paintings, drawings, engravings, stencils, bas-relief carvings and figures made of beeswax in rock shelters and caves. It can take two main forms: engravings (petroglyphs) and paintings or drawings (pictographs). Petroglyphs are created by removing rock through pecking, hammering or abrading in order to leave a negative impression. Pictographs are made by applying pigments to the rock. Drawings use dry colours, such as charcoal, clay, chalk and ochre (which can be anything from pale yellow to dark reddish
brown). Paintings use wet pigments made from minerals, which are applied by finger or with brushes made from chewed sticks or hair. Sometimes stencils are created by blowing the colour from the mouth over an outline. Broadly speaking, rock art in Australia employs two main design types. The first uses engraved geometric forms, such as circles, concentric circles, arcs, dots or animal tracks. The second creates figurative forms, such as painted or engraved silhouettes of humans or animals. These figures can be either simple outlines or more complex constructions. The X-ray pigment art of Kakadu, for example, shows the internal organs of humans and animals. Within these two main designs, however, infinite
variations are possible, depending on the preferences of the individual artist or cultural groups. Reference: National Museum of Australia

Kakadu's (Northern Territory of Australia) rock art (gunbim) represents one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. It is also one of the reasons Kakadu has received World Heritage status. The paintings provide a fascinating record of Aboriginal life over thousands of years. With paintings up to 20,000 years old, this is one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world.

Professor Stephen Oppenheimer, who incorporated techniques such as genetic analysis thru climatology, archaeology, fossil analysis and modern dating methods stated that during the Middle Palaeolithic era, between 70,000 and 60,000 BC there was a huge movement of modern humans from across Timor Sea to Australia. It is difficult to assess the age of the rock art more accurately in Kakadu. The thermoluminescence dating technique has been used in Kakadu to date the sand surrounding pieces of ground ochre to 50,000 years ago. Used pieces of ochre provide good evidence that there was artistic expression of some sort at this early date, although not necessarily rock art.

The very first version of rock art paintings communicated visual information about Aboriginal life. Dotted Rings, animal and bird footprints and human hands are some of the examples of first forms of rock art. With time, it evolved, and we are witness now to paintings of animals, fish, birds and figures. This technique has been named “X-RAY STYLE”