Depictions of firearms in Australian Aboriginal rock art provide a unique opportunity to archaeologically explore the roles that this type of material culture played in times of culture contact. From the earliest interactions with explorers to the buffalo shooting enterprises of the twentieth century—firearms played complex and shifting roles in western Arnhem Land Aboriginal societies. The site of Madjedbebe (sometimes referred to as Malakunanja II in earlier academic literature) in Jabiluka (Mirarr Country), offers the opportunity to explore these shifting roles over time with an unprecedented 16 paintings of firearms spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This rock art provides evidence for early firearms as objects of curiosity and threat to local groups, as well as evidence for later personal ownership and use of such weaponry. Moreover, we argue that the rock art suggests increasing incorporation of firearms into traditional cultural belief and artistic systems over time with Madjedbebe playing a key role in the communication of the cultural meanings behind this new subject matter.
- Arnhem land
- Rock art