Monday, 22 April 2013

Rock and Roll Downunder - The Pilbara Petroglyphs

When people speak of Ancient History in a human context, many people automatically think of places such as Africa or the mythical Troy, the Ancient Greeks or perhaps the early tribes of Britain or Europe. Maybe even Buddhist temples or the Aztecs.

Not many of you would instantly think of Australia. Would that be true to say? And yet Australia holds bound by its bleached, golden beaches and its rocky unforgiving shores an abundance of evidence showing it to be the home of some of the worlds most ancient human settlement.
But they did not write the Illiad, and they did not create written history with the Icelandic Sagas and Beowulf. The Australian Aboriginal gave you something much harder to seek out. Something just as special and wonderous.
Sites of the Pilbara Rocks, Western Australia
Since they came to live on this environmentally diverse island, their words and histories have been written in secret and inhospitable places.
Their cultural histories are not written in a language you or I would define as words.
Their written language is manifested as figures and images. Things they have seen or want to show to others.
 Engraved or painted - with mineral paints such as ochre and ash - into the walls and stones and caves across this ancient land where only an experienced journeyor can stumble upon them or seek them out. They are ancient words in sacred places and this is probably why they have retained their unmarred beauty for tens of thousands of years and will continue to retain their beauty for tens of thousands more.
An example of these fascinating artworks and languages are the Petroglyphs of Western Australia and they can be found in the Pilbara region. Or known in more broad terms as the Burrup Peninsular and the Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia.  (see above map)

Here you will find the Pilbara Petroglyphs. Over a million engravings of animals of local provenance,
humans, human faces and other animals that have long gone from the area – gone due to extinction, or their species being isolated to other parts of the country many thousands of miles away eg the Tasmanian Tiger.

A Pilbara Petroglyph
While the engravings have not yet been precisely dated, scientists have used methods based on techniques including, reading radioactive isotope (which accumulates in the surfaces of rocks because of radiation from space), weathering of the stone, the style of the engravings and the land based animals depicted upon them which could have only been found in Australia during the last Ice Age. These factors combined, help to date them to as much as 30,000 years old. Which pre dates the last Ice Age of 22,000 years ago.

They have even proposed that some of the engravings could be as old as 60,000 years ago and the low rates of erosion and low rainfall in the area go a long way to assisting them in their dating analysis, but as yet this more ancient figure can not be emphatically proven.

These Pilbara Rocks are only one example of many Aboriginal artworks that date to tens of thousands of years ago. They are spread across the country in all States and Territories.

The Nawarla Gabarnmang cave Paintings
In another area of Australia, in a Northern Territory cave, are the magnificent Nawarla Gabarnmang paintings dating to at least 28,000 years old. Beautiful images depicting humans, animals and plants mostly made with mineral paints. The ash component of those paints being what can carbon date the images to nearly 30,000 years old.

So stow these facts away and next time someone mentions countries with a wealth of ancient history, you make me proud and tell them a thing or two about early human history in a part of the world that rarely comes to mind to most. The Australian Aboriginal. Who's history of settlement begins long before you may have imagined.

For more information on the Pilbara Petroglyphs:

- MM


  1. I love that people have been 'writing' stories forever, everywhere.

    1. Hard not to want to read when reading and telling stories is in all our dna. :)