The Complexities of the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges Rock Art

This part of my Directed Study involved plotting GPS coordinates (UTM WGS 84) for recorded rock art sites in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges on 1:50,000 cadastral maps. The study area was divided into five regions from south to north where clusters of art sites occur. These regions are defined as: 1. Angas River; 2. Mount Barker Creek; 3. Bremer River; 4. Rockleigh-Tepko and 5.Tungkillo.
The most southerly major sites occur in the Angas River region. The Anthony Hill Shelter (200m altitude) overlooks the Ngarrindjeri’s Lake Alexandrina district. The most northern site in the Tungkillo region is Cooke Hill (420m altitude) and has a commanding view over the western Murray River plains. From this high point visiting trading partners from the Murray River could be observed well in advance before their entry into eastern Peramangk territory. Both art sites are separated by 56km and the remaining 43 occur within the Peramangk eastern boundary (see Figure 1.).
Detailed illustrations and photography of all rock art motifs were made using colour negative film, digital photography and computer enhancement of faint images. Distance to the nearest permanent fresh water from each site was also recorded. Permanency of nearby water courses was confirmed by The Geological Survey of South Australia Mineral Resources Division, as: “likely to be minor and local, the river systems 200 to 3000 years ago would not have been any different from today” (Peter Waring pers. comm. 2013).
For each site the number of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic figures and other geometric motifs were recorded (Figures 2-4). Groups of motifs that had merged due to pigment run were considered as one. All other individual motifs that were clearly defined were considered to be a single recording. Some of those connected or superimposed were recorded as separate motifs (see Figure 5).
The rock art consists of 284 painted or drawn ochre figures the largest numbers, twenty six, occur at Harrison Creek (RC 25) and Cooke Hill (RC 42). Most are monochrome (78.2%), followed by bichrome (9.9%) and polychrome (1.8%). The assemblage consisted of 65.5% anthropomorphic figures; 3.9% zoomorphic figures, 22.2% geometric images and 8.4% incomplete. The majority of anthropomorphic figures are two dimensional (Figure 2). A smaller proportion of these (7.8%) were figures in profile (Figure 5). Stylistically the majority of the southern Mount Lofty Ranges assemblage is anthropomorphic figures less than 26cm in length, with arms up or down at an angle of 50° and legs without feet pointing downwards at an angle of 50°. These figures can be with or without a tail or genitalia which is the same length as the head.
The art at two sites, however, differs markedly from this. One of the motifs at RC 1, Anthony Hill Shelter (see figure 5[7]) shows dynamic figure animation and movement:
Stylistically these figures are atypical for the local region and the only known example in the state. In South Australia a panel of moving figures is extremely unusual and representative of the ‘mimi’ figures in northern Australia (Ellyard, 1979).
Rather than being representative of ‘mimi’ figures their meaning is lost and it would be advisable to call them reminiscent of ‘mimi’ figures instead.
Five more anthropomorphic figures were recorded in the same site, each carrying objects or weapons and two appear to have implements in bags slung over their backs (see Figure 5 [5,6,8]). Most figures have bent legs and prominent feet facing right. One figure has feet splayed in an outward direction (see Figure 5[3]). At the Kanmantoo Painting Site (RC 23), three profile figures are depicted: one is a zoomorphic figure, probably an emu, and has a vertical line positioned above its back, the other two are facing anthropomorphic motifs (see Figure 5[2]); one has arms resting on hips and its head facing right, while the other appears in a defensive or crouched position, resting on a club-like tail and holding up an implement or shield (Figure 5[10]).
The rock art at these two sites, RC 1, RC 23, can cautiously be interpreted as being produced by separate visiting groups as they are unique from the entire southern Mount Lofty Ranges assemblage in showing two dimensional profiles or active movement.
Ellyard, P. 1979 Anthony’s Hill Historic Reserve. Australian Heritage Commission Register of the National Estate Nomination Form File No. 309088000401. Canberra ACT.

Figure 1Map007 (2)

Figure 1.  Location of recorded rock art sites in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges

Red spots indicate locations where red ochre figures are depicted in profile

Yellow spots indicate where white ochre has been used to retouch motifs

Blue spots indicate red ochre figures

Black stars are locations where C14 dates have been obtained

Directed studies 1001

Figure 2.  Anthropomorphic figures recorded in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges

Figure 3 Zoomorphic

Figure 3.  Zoomorphic figures recorded in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges

Figure 4 Geometric figures

Figure 4. Geometric figures recorded in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges

Figure 5 Profile and connected figures

Figure 5.  Figures in profile recorded in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges


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