Louvre on the Rocks: Cache of
Aboriginal Art Revealed
Condensed by Native Village
Archaeologists have offered details
about what may be one of the world's
most important collections of rock
art. The treasure of more than
3,000 paintings and images has been
found in Djulirri (rhymes with
The extraordinary cache lies in a
remote and sparsely populated
region. The site was almost
completely unknown to science.
Djulirri's rock walls bear images of
kangaroos, Tasmanian tigers, ships,
a snake ritual, European
missionaries, even a biplane.
The oldest paintings at Djulirri is
12,000 -15,000 years old; the
newest, roughly 50. Some areas have
20 layers of artworks, one painted
atop the other.
been documenting and visiting rock
art sites for about 30 years now,"
says Paul Tacon of Griffith
"And Djulirri is one of the most
impressive and outstanding sites
I've ever been to."
"This is art that is significant
internationally, not only for its
beauty but for
the insights it gives into how
humans adapt to change," Claire
Smith, president of the World
One image is
unique to Djulirri: a stencil of a
bird, probably a species called the
singing honeyeater. Scientists say
the image may be more than 9,000
years old. The artist created it by
holding a real bird against the rock
wall, then skillfully blowing red
paint over it to create an outline.
Another depiction is a Southeast
Asian boat painted in the 1600s.
That overturns an assumption that
people lived in isolation until the
British arrived in the 1700s.
Aboriginal artists may have used
rock images to pass on knowledge and
document their history, including
contacts with people from different
lands. Native Australians "refer to
these sorts of sites as their
libraries or their history books,"
While most of the famous prehistoric
rock paintings are found in caves,
art was created in above-ground rock
The roomlike spaces with rock walls
and often, rock ceilings made ideal
camping sites for families searching
for food. Djulirri is both spacious
and has a natural spring.
Perhaps this location is why
Djulirri's rocks were repeatedly
used as a canvas. No other site in
Australia has so many paintings in
so many different styles, Tacon
rock art sites used for thousands of
years are found throughout the
world. Rock art expert David Whitley
says t North America also boasts
rock art sites used for 10,000
years. That's close to the age span
Those who've seen Djulirri comment
on the large amount of art about the
Aborigines' contact with outsiders.
It offers us valuable window into
the experiences with their first
encounters with foreign cultures,
"We usually reconstruct the contact
period through the views and travel
diaries of the Europeans," says Ines
Domingo Sanz of the University of
Barcelona. "For me, these paintings
are like the visual travel diaries
of the indigenous people, who used
the walls of this site complex to
reflect their own views on this
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