SCIENTISTS have unveiled a 4000-year-old Aboriginal
rock art site in a wilderness area that has already yielded a tree
species still living from prehistory.
In a rock shelter amid the
rugged sandstone gorge country of the Wollemi National Park, home
of an ancient species of pine, west of Sydney, are more than 200
drawings anthropolgists say will shed important light on the history
of Aboriginal people in the Sydney basin.
It is thought that up
to 160 generations came to the cave to paint.
The images of human-like
figures, half-human, half-animal composites, birds, lizards and
marsupials, and stencils of hands, boomerangs and axes, are superimposed
in 12 layers.
The location of the paintings, like that of the
Wollemi pine, is being kept secret to protect them from the public.
Museum principal anthropologist Paul Tacon said the pictures, discovered
by bushwalkers in 1995, were so well-preserved that "many
of the stencilled drawings look like they were made yesterday".
"It's like a place that time forgot," Dr
Tacon told The Australian yesterday.
The motivation of the artists
could only be speculated on, he said.
"It may be that it was a good camping place,
but there are some
images that are part-human, part-animal which
may be depictions of ancestral beings and that suggests there are
spiritual associations with the site."
Hampered by the ruggedness
of the Wollemi area, and by drought, bushfires and a flood, Dr
Tacon and his team, including a Darug Aborigine, an archaeologist
and a PhD student, finally visited the shelter in May and were
the first to scientifically document the drawings.
Dr Tacon said
the oldest paintings, red hand and forearm stencils, were up to
4000 years old, while the newest were from the 1800s.
was gauged by comparison with other dated sites in the Sydney area.
Australian's national art critic and an expert on Aboriginal art,
author Susan McCulloch, said the find was significant because rock
art in the eastern states was relatively rare.
"The fact that there is one that hasn't been
found for all these years is really extraordinary," McCulloch
NSW Premier Bob Carr said yesterday the rock art
find showed how vital it was to protect natural areas.
"We are reminded of just how important it
is to set old spaces aside, protect them, because you never know
what in time is going to be found there," Mr Carr said.
Wollemi pine is up to 200 million years old and was long thought
to have been extinct until it was discovered by chance by a national
parks ranger in 1994.
By Brendan O'Keefe and Megan Saunders