Aboriginal Rock Art
For millennia, people in northern Australia painted the ceiling of a rock overhang. Archaeologists are now using scientific methods to elicit the secrets of the paintings.
Northern Australia, early July 2006. Ray Whear was back in the air. He and the helicopter pilot hovered over Arnhem Land on another routine observation flight, never losing sight of the landscape. And that morning, something really caught the eye of the environmental officer from the Jawoyn Indigenous Cultural Association: an unusually large shadow. Whear was curious. He asked the pilot to fly to the Aboriginal site so the two could take a closer look. They landed, walked a short distance, and reached a large rock overhang. As they walked inside, they found themselves in a glorious world of images, with hundreds of paintings on the ceiling.
The rock hall that Whear discovered is on Buyhmi clan territory in Jawoyn Aboriginal land. As it soon emerged, one of the clan's elders recalled camping there with his father as a child over 70 years ago. The place had been forgotten ever since, until Whear caught sight of it from the air. The Jawoyn christened the site "Nawarla Gabarmang", which means "place of the rock hole". The Jawoyn Cultural Association, which researches tribal history and ancestral sacred sites, decided to conduct a thorough study of the paintings at Nawarla Gabarmang. And for this task the Jawoyn had invited my colleagues and I to Arnhem Land…