Inora Newsletter #43


Even though in many parts of the world new rock-art sites are discovered each year, in much of Europe it is rare to find previously undocumented sites due to the extent of development, land transformation and archaeological investigation. However, in recent years we have been fortunate with, for instance, additional open air engravings at Foz Côa in Portugal, extensive painted galleries at Cosquer and Chauvet, France, (see Clottes 1998 for a review of all three locations) and the new finds at Church Hole cave, Creswell Crags, UK (Bahn et al. 2003). New portable sculpture from the incredible Hohle Fels Cave, Germany (Conard 2003) has also made headlines.

Outside Europe, on the other hand, it is still possible to find large areas of previously undocumented rock-art sites. This is especially true for parts of Asia, Africa and Australia. Indeed at the November 2004 TARA International Conference, The Future of Africa’s Past: African Rock Art in the 21st Century, finds from many previously unrecognised rock-art areas, such as in Mauritania, were reported. In mainland southeast Asia sites are being found in neighbouring parts of Myanmar (Taçon et al. 2004) and Thailand (e.g. Richardson 2003), while in Borneo an early hand stencil tradition has been documented (Chazine in McDonagh 2003; Chazine 2004). New rock-art localities are also being recorded in many parts of China, India and
other parts of Asia as was demonstrated at the IFRAO Congress 2004 in Agra, India.

In Australia it was recently believed that all major rockart areas had been identified some time ago (e.g. Flood 1997, Layton 1992, Morwood 2002), although a number new sites are regularly found across the continent. Australia has more sites than any other country with at 100,000 (Flood 1997) and perhaps as many as 125,000. It will likely be several decades before an accurate account is available, given the size of Australia, the nature of the terrain and the currently limited amount of rockart research. Recent research has added much detail some poorly documented areas, such as the Torres (Brady et al. 2004), the Keep River region (Taçon
2003), between Darwin and the Daly River, Northern Territory (Gunn 2003) and parts of central Australia 2005) but the discoveries of large new rock-art areas exceedingly rare. However, recent work by McDonald (2005) and others near the Canning Stock Route in westcentral Australia has not only fleshed out our knowledge poorly known art for this region but also revealed localities of previously unknown art and links to several other areas, including the Pilbara. Our own research revealed something similar, a new area of rock-art links to other art bodies in several directions.

The Landscape of Blue Mountains Rock-Art Project

Since 2001 we have been working in the rugged, wild Wollemi National Park, an area northwest of Sydney considered by many to be the last remaining large area of wilderness in New South Wales. Wollemi lies within the recently declared Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and is situated immediately north of the Blue Mountains National Park. It is well known for its plant biodiversity and there are rare plant species, such as the Pagoda daisy (Leucochrysum graminifolium) and the ancient Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), in hidden gorges. Many have only recently been discovered, such as the pine in 1994. Our field area is approximately 60 kms by 90 kms, about 5,400 square kilometres.

When we began very little was known about the cultural heritage of the Wollemi and because of its rugged, and at times impenetrable nature, we were told not to expect to find much at all. However, there are clusters of sites around its edge and bushwalkers (hikers) had found a large site in late 1995. We began by visiting sites close to the Wollemi in order to observe variation and the types of sites we might expect. We then documented, reported or registered sites around the edges, providing greater detail to earlier records. Finally, in 2003, we got to the central Wollemi site reported by the bushwalkers, now known as Eagle’s Reach. Since then our investigations have revealed hundreds of previously undocumented archaeological sites, many with spectacular rock-art.
Map: Location of
Wollemi national Park, in Australia.

We work closely with various parts of the Wiradjeri, Darug, Darkingjung and other relevant Aboriginal communities on all aspects of the project, including field work. Aboriginal people are partners in research but also provide information, advice and skills crucial to the success of the project. We also work closely with the bushwalking (hiking) community, with members of several clubs either being team members who specialise in survey and site location or providing reports to us when they encounter sites during their regular expeditions and activities.

During the pilot phase of our research (2001-2003) we set out to record a broad range of Aboriginal sites in the Wollemi in order to get a feel for its potential cultural heritage. The initial focus was on rock-art and grinding groove sites because of the large range of information they contain. However, we also noted the location of artefact scatters, unadorned shelters with artefacts and other archaeological sites. Twenty-eight individual sites were scientifically recorded in detail, from several localities across the Wollemi. Eleven of these sites were previously unknown, as were a further 29 sites found by our team in survey. These sites lie within traditional Wiradjeri, Darug and Darkinjung country. Over 1,200 individual rock marking motifs were fully recorded, consisting of stencils, grinding grooves, dry pigment drawings, paintings, vertical engravings and horizontal engravings (eg. see Taçon 2003a, Taçon 2003b; Taçon, Brennan et al. 2003; Taçon, Brennan et al. in press).

Significant Phase 1 results include:

a) the documentation and assessment of ‘Eagle’s Reach’ (Fig. 1-2), a site now known to be one of the most outstanding in the greater Sydney region in terms of drawings and stencils and the subject of much recent international attention;

b) the discovery of a previously unreported platform engraving site in the heart of the southern Wollemi, the first in that area (Fig. 3);

c) the discovery of a rock-art shelter with a wooden artefact, a 49 cm long fire stick placed on a rock ledge at least 150 years ago (Fig. 4);

d) the documenting of 57 Aboriginal archaeological sites, most with rock-art;

e) the discovery of 29 sites near Eagle’s Reach on an 18 square kilometre plateau surrounded by deep gorges.

f) the first direct date for rock-art in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, with a vertical engraved bird track (Fig. 5) revealed to have a minimum age of 2,000 years.

(Top left) Fig. 1. Fine charcoal drawings at Eagle’s Reach lying under a white club stencil and white outline drawings are thought to be as much as 1600 years of age.
(Right) Fig. 2. At Eagle’s Reach there are a number of therianthropes,
human-bird or human-macropod combinations.
(Bottom left) Fig. 3. Platform engravings are uncommon in Wollemi, being more
typical of coastal sites to the east. These outline animals have had red
wool placed in the grooves in order to temporarily better define their features.

Fig. 4 This rare wooden firestick, perhaps 150-250 years of age, was found lying on a well-protected shelf at the back of a rediscovered shelter with white outline drawings.

The major aim of the pilot phase was achieved in that we have demonstrated Wollemi National Park has a rich and varied cultural heritage. However, we realized we had only just scratched the surface, and that there is enormous potential for further significant discoveries. This was borne out in Phase 2 (January 2004 to June 2005). Results are about to be analysed in detail but over one hundred additional sites were located, about half with rock-art. Some sites have dozens of drawings and stencils and a few are remarkably well preserved. Importantly, several areas of concentration have been identified and travel routes between them have also been mapped. Furthermore, additional rock-art forms and techniques were discovered and influences from several different cultural groups, near and far, were documented.
Fig. 5 A minimum age of 2000 years was obtained from a crust overlying this engraved bird track. The panel it is part of is more typical of designs found far to the northwest in central Australia and its actual age may be in the order of several thousand years.

Indeed, although Wollemi National Park is a rugged, wild place, it now seems Aboriginal people visited it from several directions, at the same time and at different times. Their individual and group marks of identity were left behind in the process and at some sites there was a great accumulation of imagery.

During Phase 3 (July 2005 to June 2008) we plan to expand our survey base and to initiate excavation at a few key locations. The objectives of Phase 3 are (a) to develop a predicative model for locating rock-art and other Aboriginal sites in the Wollemi; (b) to document traditional travel routes and Dreaming tracks; (c) to finish survey in key areas; (d) to record as much of the rockart as possible in detail and before sites deteriorate from natural processes and increasing tourist pressure; (d) to excavate a number (at least five) of significant rock shelters with art in order to better determine age of occupation and associated activities; (e) to contribute to a management and preservation plan to be developed for the area; and finally (f) to make a documentary film on the rock-art, the documentation process and the Aboriginal community members involved.

The picture of Wollemi cultural heritage that has emerged over the past few years is one of much greater complexity than expected. There are hundreds, probably thousands of sites, scattered throughout its rugged, often almost impassable, landscape. Wollemi is a wild place with many endangered plants and animals but our research is showing it also has a long cultural history. Influences can be seen from several directions, near and far. Wollemi rock-art is different from that of the Sydney Basin although much of it has strong links with that rock-art ‘province’. It also has links to other rock-art areas as well as its own unique features. We argue it should properly be considered a new rock-art area in this sense but that it is best studied as a ‘cross roads’ area that has always been used by many different groups of people. Contemporary Aboriginal opinion is that many of the rock-art sites were teaching places and that the Wollemi was long recognised as a very special place.


Phase 1 of the project was funded by the Australian Museum. During Phase 2 research was sponsored by National Geographic. Both are thanked for making our journeys through the Wollemi possible. We especially thank the greater Blue Mountains Aboriginal Community, the greater Blue Mountains bushwalking community and the many people who participated in field trips and otherwise supported this research. We also thank the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation, the Australian Museum, Griffith University, the Blue Mountains World Heritage Research Institute and the University of New England for support.

Paul S. C. TAÇON
1, Wayne BRENNAN 2, Shaun HOOPER 3,
4 & Dave PROSS 5

1 Griffith University, Gold Coast campus.
2 University of New England, Armidale.
3 Blue Mountains World Heritage Research Institute, Katoomba.
4 Australian Museum, Sydney.
5 Darkingjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, Wyong.


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