South East Asian influences in western Arnhem Land rock art decorative infill

Daryl Wesley, Jessica Viney

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    4 Citations (Scopus)
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    George Chaloupka was told by Indigenous informants that a particular ‘diamond’ and ‘zigzag’ decorative infill style found in north western Arnhem Land rock art could be attributed to a transfer of knowledge from Indigenous contact with South East Asian seafarers and their textiles. We examine the hypothesis that diamond and zigzag decorative infill was a recent innovation in rock art through an analysis of a sample of rock art motifs with decorative infill design from the Wellington Range, Arnhem Land. The aim is to test the hypothesis of whether some infill design elements can be attributed to the emergence of cultural contact with South East Asian mariners. The project assessed a sample of 458 rock art motifs from 182 rock art sites that could be both attributed to an identifiable Arnhem Land chronological style and also contained one or more internal decorative infill elements. A single beeswax radiocarbon date of 955– 791 cal. BP over a female anthropomorphic figure with a segmented zigzag decorative infill design illustrates that this manner of painting was clearly an endogenous development by Indigenous artists in the late Holocene. We discuss the possibility that these zigzag and segmented body design patterns were independently developed by Indigenous artists during the late Holocene and may have been influenced from similar patterns produced in woven fibre material culture. On the other hand, the diamond decorative infill design is represented in a select few figurative anthropomorphic motifs and is most likely a design element resulting from exposure to South East Asian textiles owing to the long period of culture contact established in the local region since the early 1600s AD. The method for the incorporation of exogenous designs in Arnhem Land Indigenous rock art is examined through the theory of cultural transmission and payoffs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)35-69
    Number of pages35
    JournalJournal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


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