Last updated June 1, 2020 at 12:03 pm
The rock art, which is just one of three such examples in the world, adds another dimension to Australia’s rock art history.
Why This Matters: Storytelling in rock art passes information across millenia.
Australian researchers are exploring the backstory to the most detailed examples ever found of a rare form of rock art.
The miniature stencils are too small to have been made by tracing articles or body parts, suggesting models first had to be created.
Seventeen images were found in the Yilbilinji rockshelter at Limmen National Park in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria region of northern Australia by a team of archaeologists, anthropologists, park rangers and representatives of the traditional Marra people.
Rounded edges suggest art was made using a stencil-like object
Only two other examples of such works have been uncovered anywhere in the world, the researchers say: one at Nielson’s Creek in New South Wales, Australia, and one at Kisar Island in Indonesia.
In both cases these were of human figures only. The Yilbilinji images found in 2017 depict a wide range of motifs, including human figures, crabs, long-necked turtles, kangaroo paws, boomerangs and geometric shapes.
One clue came from the fact most had rounded or curved edges, suggesting they were made using something that could be easily moulded and stuck to the rock surface.
The full story of the stencils is still up for debate
“Using these clues, the researchers decided to test if beeswax could have been used to make the miniature stencils,” he says.
“Our experiments involving heating and shaping beeswax into human figures, animals, objects, and geometric shapes, and then stencilling onto a rock slab confirmed beeswax was an excellent material for making miniature stencils.”
The full story of the stencils and their meaning is still open for debate, says Flinders’ Amanda Kearney, but “this discovery adds another dimension to the Australian and global rock art record”.
Since the original discovery, three more images have been found – a human figure, an echidna and a freshwater turtle.