A new style of rock art has been discovered in Australia by archaeologists. The art depicted the harmonious relationship between humans and animals in ancient times. This style of rock art has been named Maliwawa Figures in reference to the area in which the drawings were located.
These drawings have been referred to as the missing link in Aboriginal art between the realistic drawings of animals from around 12,000 years ago and the stick figure paintings from approximately 4,000 years ago (also called X-Ray art). It is believed that these newly discovered Maliwawa Figures date back between 6,000 and 9,400 years ago.
For the past 12 years, Paul Taçon and his team discovered 570 examples of Maliwawa Figures at 87 different sites within an 80-mile location in Arnhem Land which is an area of vast wilderness in the northern part of Australia that has rugged coastlines, rivers, remote islands, and waterfalls. It is just slightly less than 100,000 square kilometers (just under 39,000 square miles) which means that this incredible wilderness is larger than Hungary, Portugal, and Austria.
In an interview with BBC, Taçon, who is the Australian Research Council laureate fellow and Griffith University chair in rock art research as well as an author of the study, described the uniqueness of their discovery, “We came across some curious paintings that are unlike anything we’d seen before.”
The most significant aspect of the art is that it depicts such a great relationship between humans and animals. In fact, of the hundreds of drawings uncovered so far, only one showed a hunting scene. According to their paper, “Animal-human relationships appear to be central to the artists’ message.” “The artists are clearly communicating aspects of their cultural beliefs, with an emphasis on important animals and interactions between humans and other humans or animals.”
Interestingly, the majority of the Maliwawa Figures measure at least two and a half feet in height with some of them being life-size. While they were drawn with red outlines, several of them had some detailed work done inside of the lines which could indicate that more than one artist helped to create the art. The paper read in part, “It is even possible only a couple of artists made most of the paintings.” “We know… that individual rock art artists can produce a remarkable number of paintings in their lifetime.”
Some of the animals depicted in the drawings include bilbies which have never been seen before in any known Indigenous rock art. What’s even more interesting is that bilbies weren’t believed to have lived in Arnhem Land. At one point they inhabited about 70% of Australia but not in that specific northern area, although since the rock art depicted the animal, it’s very possible that they did live in Arnhem Land at one point in time.
Another interesting figure was of a dugong which is the oldest-known drawing of the marine mammal. Several pictures of the rock art can be seen here.
Their paper was published in the journal Australian Archaeology and can be read in full here.