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Sydney Rock Art

Samantha Mattila reports on the discovery of valuable new additions to Sydney’s rock art.

A 4,000-year-old record of Australian Aboriginal rock art hidden by an inhospitable location has been revealed at a cave just outside Sydney. Australian Museum’s rock art specialist and Principal Research Scientist in Anthropology, Dr Paul Taçon, described the new find, in a heavily forested area in a remote and rugged part of Wollemi National Park, as ‘incredibly important’, with more than 200 separate depictions and up to twelve different layers of art, created over time in different geographic styles.

‘The superimposed layers in various colours such as red, yellow, white and charcoal black are in pristine condition and include stencils, drawings and one painting,’ notes Dr Taçon. ‘It is like an ancient world that time forgot. We’ve never seen anything quite like this combination of rare representations in so many layers. For instance, our analysis has revealed an unusually large percentage of bird related imagery in several layers of the rock art.’ The imagery is not yet dated, but Dr Taçon has compared the drawings and stencils in the various layers to better-dated sites in the Sydney Basin, to the east. From this, he and his colleagues hypothesise that the drawings and many of the stencils were made between 200 and 1,600 years ago, but that some stencils, in red and dark yellow, are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old.

There are other pigment-based sites to the immediate east, in the heart of traditional Darkinjung Aboriginal country. But because this new find is so well preserved and extensive, its details throw new light on the better-known sites. This is the ninth largest pigment site in the greater Sydney region and is one of the most significant sites of over 100,000 known across Australia.

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