Painting on red rock up to 2 meters high depicts the life of Aboriginal Australians 9,400 years ago. That is what Australian archaeologists have just found at Arnhem Land – a vast wasteland on the north of the continent. The area has historically been known as a giant outdoor art gallery, with more than 100,000 stone monuments dating back to prehistoric times.
Scientific evidence shows that Aboriginal Australians were the people who crossed the sea to migrate to the continent 50,000 years ago. After coming here, they left paintings on the rock as a narrative about their life.
The new paintings found at Arnhem Land are classified by the scientists as a completely new art style called Maliwawa. In it, the artists of prehistoric times used line drawings to represent everything, from humans, macropods (like kangaroos, kangaroos), reptiles like snakes, birds, fish such as dugongs, dragonflies and even half-human and half animal figures.
The drawings show Maliwawa-style human figures up to 1.95 meters high.
Australian Aboriginal people used to live in harmony with animals
Maliwawa-style paintings are reported by scientists in Australian Archeology magazine. It is a huge collection, with 572 rock paintings found in 87 shelter caves in the Wellington range.
They date from about 6,000-9,400 years with very diverse sizes, the smallest about 20x50cm and the largest are the paintings taller than the person, up to 1.9 m.
In the Maliwawa style, prehistoric artists in Australia used parallel bold red strokes against a red rock background. Their focus is on depicting a life of harmony between aboriginal people and native animals.
This prehistoric art theme is really rare, not only in Australia, but all over the world. This is because often, the Paleolithic paintings would show human strength in front of animals, such as depicting a hunting trip. However, Maliwawa paintings show the peaceful life of our ancestors with other species.
For example, there is a drawing showing a kanguru that appears to be watching or participating in human activity. The macropods are drawn in a human sitting position, their upper legs facing forward, with the spokes spread out like a person playing a piano. Often times, it is also rare to have detailed stone paintings of the geometrical structure of the animal’s feet.
A very detailed drawing of kangaroos, geometrical structures of animal feet rarely appear in prehistoric works.
In another painting you can see a man holding an animal, perhaps a snake. Marsupial animals, birds, fish, even half human and half animal are the images chosen by prehistoric people to represent on the rock.
Maliwawa-style paintings with animal appearances account for a very large proportion, up to 75%. The majority of the species that appear to be mammals. Some of the paintings also show extinct animals, including thylacine, rats, and dugongs.
The dugongs here are said to be the oldest of this extinct fish. And because Arnhem Land is a mountainous area far from the sea, scientists believe that the aboriginal people here had to take long trips, traveling at least 90 km long to reach the coast and back.
“The dugong painting shows a Maliwawa artist visiting the shoreline, but the lack of other saltwater animals may suggest this is not a trip regularly made.“, the study authors write.
The oldest picture of a dugong – an extinct animal.
Human image and territorial assertion
Anthropologist Paul Taçon, one of the study authors from Griffith University said: In this new art style, “Humans are often depicted alongside animals, particularly macropods. And the relationships between animals and humans seem to be central to the artists’ messages.
In terms of human images, the drawings are identified as males more than females, with about a third having male genitals while only 5% of the drawings show female breasts. About 60% of the remaining paintings have no gender identity.
One drawing shows a tall man (with genitals) next to a snake. Opposite him are three other people, a woman (with breasts) and two shorter people with no gender identity. On the far left is a kanguru that appears to be participating in or monitoring human activity.
When drawing themselves in Maliwawa style, prehistoric Australians often displayed their heads round or oval. They have hair on their heads, but about 30% of the drawings will be the people who will wear the hat.
Scientists have listed up to 10 different types of hats that prehistoric people here used, from round caps, wide-brimmed hats, to feather hats. Another characteristic feature of the human image is that most of them have a large belly.
Scientists do not yet know whether these paintings were painted by many generations, or are the work of one or a handful of prolific prehistoric artists. But one thing in common is that the drawings are often shown in conspicuous areas.
They are often painted on large and high stone walls, in locations that can be seen from afar. Scientists believe this could be a message about prehistoric territory. They mean a lot of spirit.
This 1.44 meter tall drawing shows a tall man with a feathered hat. He is reaching out one hand toward a large bird and holding the leg of a large macropod (be it emu or kangaroo).
Australia is the continent fostering the longest continuous, uninterrupted culture in human history. Archaeologists say the first group of people to appear here about 50,000 years ago is also the group whose ancestors left Africa more than 70,000 years earlier.
With such a long history, in the Arnhem Land area alone, scientists have found more than 100,000 art monuments such as paintings, stone carvings, paintings from beeswax to cave walls, on a cliff or rock bed …
It is such an enormous amount of art that in 2020 new discoveries like this one will continue to be found. Scientists are still actively cooperating with the local people to gather these works.
Prehistoric people in Australia probably left many more messages for posterity that Maliwawa was just one of them. The message they convey is probably something that we modern humans need to learn: Live in harmony with nature and animals.
Refer Theguadian, Sciencealert