One of Australia’s oldest forms of art was created centuries before the first white settlers set foot on the continent, and many examples of this art are actually still observable today. This is because they are actually found on rock, and Australia notably has some of the oldest examples of rock art in the entire world. Being as old as they are, rock art sites demonstrate long-forgotten examples of animals, spirituality and human relationships. In this article, we take a look at these impressive forms of art, and examine why rock art should be appreciated by more people across not only Australia, but the world.
Aboriginal rock art basics
If you’re interested in Aboriginal art dot paintings, you might already know that their origins are in rock art. It’s quite a history, too — engravings found in South Australia have been found to be more than 35,000 years old and there are areas in Western Australia that have been determined to be some of the oldest rock sites in the entire world. There are approximately 100,000 significant rock art sites in Australia, although many of these places are unknown by many people, holding significance only for a select few who know their location. Aboriginal rock engravings were typically cut into sandstone as this rock has quite soft properties in a geological sense. First, holes were pegged to outline the basic shape of the piece, and then these outlines were then connected. As rock art was typically performed on sandstone, many examples of early rock art have been eroded over time, and although it has compromised the art itself, it has given us more insight into how the art was created in the first place.
What rock art often depicted
These rock art sites depict a huge variety of different things, with older examples demonstrating engraved astronomical markers, while newer forms of rock art, known as “contact work,” depict things brought by other civilisations, such as sailing ships, a biplane from World War II, a bicycle and guns. Although these engravings can be considered art by people of non-Aboriginal descent, rock art is more intended to tell stories and provide information, particularly as each site is often just one part of an interconnected grid of sites. For example, some rock art engravings might inform someone about what food is edible in a particular area, and even what to avoid. With this in mind, it is important to remember why these sites are so important to Aboriginal people – instead of resembling an art gallery, Aboriginal rock art can provide us with an excellent understand of the culture as a whole.
How Aboriginal rock art sites are identified?
Due to so many rock sites being scattered and lost across the country, finding and verifying them again takes significant time and energy. To ensure that they are identified correctly traditional owners, elders and volunteers are constantly working to find pieces across the country. When one is found, the site is photographed and researchers discuss the site with Aboriginal elders located in the area the site was found. The entire process is extremely time and money consuming, and authenticating a site is actually not all too common – it is estimated archaeologists in Australia only properly identify a site once every ten years or so.