Ritual Rock Art Sites in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges

Ritual rock art sites in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges
By Robin Coles
August 2013

The number of recorded rock art sites in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges of South Australia has now reached seventy six (Coles, 2000). Most of these assemblages have been attributed to the Peramangk Aboriginal people. Of the forty two reviewed so far, six have revealed a regional subgroup that fit the criteria of ‘ritual rock art sites’ outlined by Ross and Davidson in 2006.

The criteria adapted in the study area are as follows: ‘ritual rock art sites’ are linked to large specific gathering places, in regions where ceremonies were held at specific times of the year, and they were probably associated with trade. The groups involved were the Peramangk, Ngarrindjeri and Ramindjeri who lived in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Lake Alexandrina and Victor Harbour regions. To the eastern Murray River plains were the Warki, Naralte and Nganguruka. The ‘ritual rock art sites’ are close to significant archaeological occupational sites and near permanent water courses. These water courses were once major trade routes.
The rock art motifs occur in rock shelters near extensive camping areas that were able to accommodate a large audience. The art is often done in bi-chrome colours, with figures larger in size. Many of the motifs show groups of people in profile performing dances or in active movement. These images are reminiscent of corroborees that were performed at specific times and places.

Other criteria aligning with the concept of ‘ritual rock art’ are the “characterisation of panels of repeated motifs produced using a similar and persistent vocabulary of core motifs” (Ross and Davidson 2006:327). Some prominent motifs may have held sacred significance within the rock art complex and they have been re-marked to indicating the continuation of “convention and participation of others at the sites” (Ross and Davidson 2006:332).
From the first analysis of the southern Mount Lofty Ranges rock art assemblage it is evident that sites fall into two different types: those that are related to supernatural ritual and those that relate to every day ritual and existence.

Coles, R.B. and Hunter, R. 2010 The Ochre Warriors. Stepney Adelaide: Axiom Publishing.
Chilman, J. 1999 Barossa Aboriginal Heritage Survey. A report to the Aboriginal Heritage Branch, South Australia Department of Environment and Planning.
Ross, J. and Davidson, I. 2006 Rock Art and Ritual: An Archaeological Analysis of Rock Art in Arid Central. Australia Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13(4):305-341.
Tindale, N.B. 1974 Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. Canberra ANU Press.

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