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Scientific Paper published by David M. Welch

Large Animals and Small Humans in The Rock Art of Northern Australia

Rock Art Research Vol 21, No. 1

Abstract. Paintings of large, life-size animals feature throughout northern Australian rock art, while associated human figures are often quite small in comparison. It will be shown that such a convention has existed from the earliest surviving rock art to the latest, and the answers to its significance lie in the study of current concepts in Aboriginal belief in Arnhem Land, the Northern Territory. These paintings give us insights into Aborigines’ ecological knowledge and religious perspective in relation to animals and the association between animals and humans. Animals are often painted large either because of their importance, or because they represent an Ancestral Creator. Taking examples from both rock art and north Australian traditional Aboriginal bark paintings, it will be shown why there is such a strong connection between large animal and small human figures, both in rock art and in the minds of the original artists. In addition to this, an important art style I have called a ‘combined perspective’ is recognised amongst some human and animal motifs.