500-year-old rock art may have been made with beeswax in Australia

Hyperaxion May 26, 2020

Using materials available in the region, researchers recreated the paintings to find out how they were made.

A team of Australian archaeologists found a 500-year-old rock art at a site called Yilbilinji, near the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia. After analyzing the materials available at the time, the researchers concluded that the paintings were made with beeswax by the Aboriginal people Marra. The findings were published on Tuesday (26) in the scientific journal Antiquity.

500-year-old rock art may have been made with beeswax in Australia
(Credit: Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2020).

The rock art was created using a stencil technique: to create the shapes, the artist held a mold with one hand on the rock and sprayed a pigmented liquid, leaving a mark on the wall. To understand this process, the researchers tried to replicate the ancient art using only materials native to the region, among them beeswax. Thus, by heating and molding beeswax, gluing it to the rock and spraying it with white pigment paint, they were able to reproduce the different shapes.

17 paintings were found in the region representing humans, animals, objects such as boomerangs and geometric shapes. “The results suggest that beeswax and other malleable and adhesive resins may have played a more significant role in creating stencilled motifs than previously thought,” wrote the researchers in the article.

This type of art is rare – there are only two other known examples in the world: one is in the Australian state of New South Wales and the other is on Kisar Island, Indonesia. However, the new findings are “the largest and most diverse concentration of this type of art ever found,” says Liam Brady, the article’s main author, to the Spanish website La Vanguardia.

The purpose of these creations is still unknown. According to scientists, they may have served as part of a ritual or spiritual practice. However, due to the low positioning on the rocks, it may also have been just children playing.

(Credit: L.M. Brady/Antiquity).


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