Wednesday, December 22, 2010


A REVIEW: Reading the Rocks: Aboriginal Australia’s Painted History, by Samir S. Patel, pages 32 – 37 & 68, Archaeology, January-February 2011, Vol. 64, No. 1.
This article, excellently written by Samil S. Patel, a senior editor and writer at Archaeology, is about the researches of archaeologist and rock art specialist Paul S. C. Tacon of Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, at the amazing rock art site of Djulirri in the Wellington Range of Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Its setting is a visit with Tacon and the aboriginal owner of the site Ronald Lamilami to Djulirri which affords the opportunity to describe the site and its significance. Djulirri’s additions and overpaintings cover an immense period of time. Tacon traces its early images back 15,000 years and the last major additions to the panels were painted about 50 years ago.

Aside from good information, and a very interesting look at the Australian rock art tradition, the importance of this piece by author Samir S. Patel is that for a change rock art is being discussed as a valid part of the historical record and a source of cultural information. “Djulirri is among the top handful of rock art sites in the world, and in its layers of pigments and stained rock is an abundance of information about Aboriginal culture and how it dealt with the sweeping changes of the last few centuries.”

This article also includes valuable information on how the aboriginal culture understands the rock art record. “All the stories are here in the rock” says Lamilami. “Each year, a new concept would be drawn - what happened the year before that, it’s a time lapse.” Patel points out that “Other rock art sites, such as Lascaux in France, capture only a narrow period of time, and even the deepest archaeological deposits aren’t willful creations like this. Djulirri might be the longest continuously updated human record in the world.” In other words according to Lamilami, this site represents an annually updated record of what happened to his people over that span of time, much like the winter counts of many of the Native American tribes of the Great Plains of North America.

I feel that this six page article contains more real understanding and usable information than some of the books on rock art sitting on my bookshelf. Do yourself a favor; make sure you get to read this one.

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