According to Cosmos Magazine, 572 Maliwawa Figures have been discovered for the first time in 87 separate rock art locations in northern Australia’s Arnhem Land. According to Griffith University’s Paul Taçon, the red images, which were painted between 6,000 and 9,400 years ago, show humans and animals living in partnerships and engaged in various activities.

The researchers believe they are a missing connection between 12,000-year-old Dynamic Figures and X-ray figures created in the last 4,000 years.

The pictures were made in a variety of red hues, with stroke-infill or outline shapes with a few red strokes as infill. Some are above 50 cm tall.

The images feature people and macropods, including three bilbies and a dugong, and lead researcher Paul Taçon of Australia’s Griffith University believes the inclusion of diverse types of headdresses demonstrates that they are not just representations of ordinary life.

“Maliwawas are represented as solitary figures as well as part of group scenes depicting various activities, some of which may have a ritual context,” he says.

“Human beings are commonly shown with animals, particularly macropods, and these animal-human connections appear to be essential to the artists’ message.

“In fact, animals are considerably more prevalent in terms of percentage of subject matter than in Dynamic Figure style rock art, since 89 per cent of Dynamic Figures are human, but only around 42 per cent of Maliwawa Figures are human.”

Sally May, a Griffith colleague and co-author, says the discovery of bilby pictures at an Awunbarna site was surprising because Arnhem Land has previously been beyond its range.

The oldest known picture, alone dugong painting, likewise seems out of place. “It shows that a Maliwawa artist visited the seaside, but the paucity of other saltwater fauna suggests that this was not a common occurrence,” May adds.

The paintings’ appeal extends beyond what they portray, with academics interested in the artists and the techniques they utilised.

“The Maliwawa back-to-back figures are the earliest known for western Arnhem Land, and it appears that this painting convention originated with the Maliwawa style.” “It is still going on today with bark paintings and paintings on paper,” Taçon explains.

Taçon says they can’t rule out the idea that the Maliwawa rock paintings were created by a small group of painters.

There is also the possibility that the paintings were created by only two painters, with one responsible for the outline shapes and the other for the richer stroke-line infill instances.

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