Newly Discovered Rock Art Panels Depict How Ancient Ancestors Envisioned Creation and Adapted to Change

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Australia’s vast wildernesses are famous for many things, but rock art, specifically one of the largest concentrations of rock art known in the world, isn’t typically one of them.

West Arnhem Land in the Queensland Peninsula hosts an incredible painted record of Man’s relation to his planet, its changes, challenges, and bounty, but a completely new rock art style covering 4,000 years of history shows Aboriginal Australians adapting to the transformation of Arnhem land into the lush riverine environment it is today.

The total collection of painted rock art in West Arnhem Land has been dated to a span of 30,000 years, stretching from just a few centuries ago to back within the last ice age. However, the period between 8,000 BCE and 4,000 BCE was seemingly absent from the variety of images painted onto the sandstone.

Now, the Bininj, Mawng, and Amurdak Aboriginal people teamed up with archaeologists led by Paul Tacon of Griffith University to finally isolate the works from this hidden period. They show a land in flux, where sea level rise meant the coasts retreated backward 150 feet per year, where mangrove forests came to dominate the near-shore landscape, and increased rainfall fed already swollen rivers.

Using the local Mawng People’s language, one of Tacon’s Bininj Aboriginal collaborators has dubbed the new rock art style the Maliwawa Style. After 8 years of field surveying and work, the team has documented 572 Maliwawa paintings and is ready to share their story with the world.

“It was really exciting to find previously undocumented shelters with lots of Maliwawa figures on walls and ceilings, sometimes in scenes,” Tacon told Archaeology Magazine, where a reader can read their feature piece on the topic. “When we saw these paintings for the first time, there was a rush of adrenaline, much excitement, cheering, and lots of shouts to each other.”

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