Lost World of the Bradshaws (Guion Guion)
"The Bradshaw Paintings are incredibly sophisticated, yet they are not recent creations but originate from an unknown past period which some suggest could have been 50,000 years ago." Peter Robinson, Project Controller of the Bradshaw Foundation.
In northern Australia, a mysterious form of rock art could legitimately be referred to as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Known as the Bradshaws, the art is dispersed in around 100 000 sites spread over 50 000 sq. km of northern Australia. Although the art's pigment can't be dated, a fossilised wasp nest covering one of the paintings has been dated at 17,000 + years old. This makes the art at least four times older than the pyramids of Egypt. It also makes the art a comparable age to the Grotte Chauvet paintings in France, which have been dated at 30,000-years-old. Although radio carbon dating was used to date the Grotte Chauvet pigments, the Bradshaw art can't be dated in the same way. Because they are so old, they have become part of the rock itself.
Aside from being extremely old, the Bradshaws are very significant to world history because instead of depicting animals, they use humans as the primary subject. The use of humans as subjects is very rare for paleolithic art.
Not only does the art use humans as a subject, it shows them with tassels, hair adornments, and possibly clothing. Such body adornments are usually only found in agricultural societies that have developed hierarchical systems of status. As well as showing body adornments, the art also shows relatively advanced technology. One painting depicts a boat with 29 people on board. Another depicts a boat with four people on board, and a rudder. In a nutshell, the art shows the culture of a people that was not believed to exist until around 10,000 years ago.
The art is very different from that created by the hunter gatherers living in the area at the time of European colonisation. The hunter gatherer paintings are known as Wandjinas. Although the Wandjinas are like the Bradshaws in that they depict a human-like form, they are very different as the Wandijina's forms are replicated over and over.
The lack of variety in the Wandjinas is best explained by their religious purpose. The arc around their heads represents lightning and the little short lines represent falling rain. In a nutshell, the Wandjinas are like deities based on the monsoonal wet season. Replicating them over and over perhaps served some similar kind of emotional desire that drives Buddhists to keep sculpting one buddha statue after another.
The only real expert on the Bradshaw art was the late Graham Walsh, who documented and studied the art for over 40 years. The combination of the pictures themselves and the oral history of the local tribes led Walsh to conclude that they were painted by an unknown Asiatic race before the last ice age. Walsh also concluded that there were a form of iconography (picture writing).
The theory of iconography necessitated that Walsh demonstrate that the pictures had some repetitive patterns and styles and Walsh provided this evidence by categorising the pictures into four main styles. One was a Tassel Figure, which had tassels hanging from their arms and waists. A second was the Sash, that had a robust form and a three pointed sash attached to the belt. A third was the Elegant Action, which showed a figure running, kneeling or hunting. The fourth was the Clothes Peg, which was shown in a stationary pose and with segments of their bodies missing.
The four main styles
Walsh based his conclusions on the fact that the paintings showed no signs of development and simply appeared in their most advanced form. For Walsh, this was a sign that the artists learnt to paint somewhere else, or a surface other than rocks, and just came to the Kimberly to paint. Walsh also noted that no stone tools of a comparable age to the paintings have ever been found.
The main problem with seeing the Bradshaw art as iconography is that it would indicate that the artists were from a settled society, and settled societies didn't exist until around 5,000 years ago. Furthermore, the modern environment of Australia is not suitable to agriculture. Although the modern enviromment is not conducive to civilisation forming, the Australian environment 50,000 years ago was more like South America. A civilisation could have commenced and subsequently fallen into ruins.
While it is not essential to understand the meaning of the symbols to appreciate the Bradshaw art, making judgements about the type of culture that created them is essential for trying to contemplate their meaning. If the Bradshaw art was created by hunter gatherers, the Bradshaw art would be ceremonial, religious or record unusual things that were seen. If it were created by an agricultural people, the art would deal with issues such as hierarchical systems of status.
Aside from helping understand the art itself, making judgements about the type of culture that created them also has implications for human evolution. If the Bradshaw people were indeed a settled people, their story is one that has parrallels with the story of Atlantis. They may have been an advanced people that got too smart for their own good. They tried to gain too much mastery over nature by clearing land for agriculture. Their civilisation would have fallen into ruins as the rains failed and nature got mastery over them.
Activity 1- Anchor the Bradshaws in world history
Activity purpose - Using patterns from world history to help explain the Bradshaws
- Instead of depicting animals, the Bradshaws use humans as the primary subject. The use of humans as subjects is very rare for paleolithic art. Research other rock art and ascertain when humans started becoming the primary subject.
- The Bradshaws showed tassels, hair adornments, and possibly clothing. Such body adornments are usually only found in agricultural societies that have developed hierarchical systems of status. Research the transition from hunter gathering to farming in ancient Japan or China and find out how this changed art and/or the expression of individual status.
Activity 2 -Picture creation
Activity purpose - Understand more about the art via mimicry
- Using pen, ruler and paper copy the pictures below. (Use the dimensions provided.)Reflect on any difficulties you faced
- Find a piece of slate (tiles are often good.) Think of something that could be used as pigment and something that could be used as a brush. Then copy the picture again onto the rock. Reflect on any challenges.
Description from the Bradshaw Foundation: - http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws/gallery8.php
" Bradshaw Period
Tassel Bradshaw Group
600x130mm (23x5 ins) left figure
540x270mm (21x10 ins) right figure
This discrete panel involves a pair of Tassel Bradshaws, each with an upwards facing long-tailed marsupial aligned close above its headdress. The distinctive dashed line objects with a 'Y' upper section are occasionally shown in close association with Tassel Bradshaws, appearing to be surviving monochrome remnants of once bichrome artifacts. Accoutrements include Tasselled Cord Armpit decorations, and multiple round bangles. The awkward arm alignment shown on the left figure appears exclusive to Tassel Bradshaws.
Description from the Bradshaw Foundation: - http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws/gallery8.php
Sash Bradshaw Group
760mm tall (30ins)
A fine Sash Bradshaw displaying a wide range of the accoutrements found associated with this Group. The long headdress has a single feather mounted through its upper extremity, with double tiered tassel extremity. A Prong Variation of the Winged Headdress feature is mounted to the right side of the head. A neck-mounted dillybag is visible beneath the right armpit, and a cluster of four Chilli Armpit Decorations beneath the left. The unusual Barred Variation of the Three Point Sash can be clearly seen rear mounted above the Broad Cummerbund Waistband, while an additional Long Pubic Apron is mounted from the front underside. Double Boomerangs are held in each hand, with an additional Whisk in the right. Tuft Armbands and Multiple Broad Bangle forearms are characteristics of this Group.
Activity 3 - Politics and ancient history
Purpose - To understand how identity and politics influences the interpretation of facts
Read the following and the answer the questions.
Even though the Bradshaws could be referred to as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, very few Australians know of them, let alone are in a position to speculate about their origins. The principle reason for this is that Australian archaeologists, the people entrusted to explore and raise awareness of the Bradshaws, have just ignored them. Perhaps archaeologists of previous generations ignored them because they are located in isolated and inhospitable country that most academics didn't want to spend much time in. As for archaeologists of the present day, they probably ignore them because the most lucrative research involves native title claims. Consequently, Australian archaelogists are only interested in research that shows how an Aboriginal tribe has had continuous association with a patch of land since 1788. Understandably, such a research focus is not conducive to exploring ancient mysteries. It would be like archaeologists trying to unravel the mysteries of the ancient Egypt by showing how Egyptians of the present day have had continuous cultural associations with the pyramids since 1788. Not only would this approach fail to shed light on the pyramids' origins, it would also constrain anyone who wants to truly understand them.
Much of the blame can be put on the 1992 Mabo versus Queensland judgement. Instead of simply saying possession justified a claim, the High Court ruled that there must be continous cultural associations. If the judgment were applied internationally, Egyptians would have no right to claim ownership over the pyramids even though they are in their country. They would have to show continous religious or cultural associations with the pyramids since Napolean invaded in the 19th Century.
One man, the late Graham Walsh, had the courage to make some conclusions independent of the need to show how Aborigines of the present day have had continuous associations with the paintings since 1788. The combination of the pictures themselves and the oral history of the local tribes led Walsh to conclude that they were painted by an unknown Asiatic race before the last ice age. Walsh also concluded that there were a form of iconography. Walsh based his conclusions on the fact that the paintings showed no signs of development and simply appeared in their most advanced form. For Walsh, this was a sign that the artists learnt to paint somewhere else, or a surface other than rocks, and just came to the Kimberly to paint. Walsh also noted that no stone tools of a comparable age to the paintings were ever found.
Even though Walsh was the undisputed expert on the paintings, his conclusions concerned the Australian Archaeological Association because it was still trying to work out how the present day Aborigines of the area had had an unbroken cultural association with them since 1788. Consequently, on the 18th December 1995 the Association issued a media statement declaring that Walsh's interpretations were "based on and encourage racist stereotypes." The media statement was signed by Australia's leading archaeologists of the time.
With the Australian Archaeological Association labelling him a racist, funding for Walsh's research dried up and other researchers became wary of making judgments on a politically sensitive subject matter. As a result, the paintings are largely ignored and misunderstood.
According to the author,
- Why did past generations of academics ignore the Bradshaws?
- How did the Mabo judgement spark an interest in the Bradshaws amongst academics?
- How has the Mabo judgement made it difficult for Aborigines in the area to claim management rights over the Bradshaws?
- How did the Mabo judgement make Aborigines of the local area dependent upon academics?
On the 18th December 1995 the Association issued a media statement declaring that Walsh's interpretations were "based on and encourage racist stereotypes."
- What negative stereotypes could be promoted by saying paintings were done by an unknown people before the last ice-age?
- Does such a statement indicate that the association is more interested in politics or understanding?
- Graham Walsh was not an academic but for a short period of time, he received funding for his work. Why might academics be concerned by an outsider appearing as an expert?
Activity 4 - Critical literacy
Purpose - Analyse arguments to reveal ideologies and agendas
In 1996, the Australian Archaeological Association stated:
"The human prehistory of the Kimberley region certainly involved cultural, technological, linguistic, artistic, and genetic changes. For instance, at various times, local population extinctions and replacement seem to have occurred as a result of climatic fluctuations and environmental deterioration during the Pleistocene (O'Connor 1990). The sheer linguistic complexity of the region today also indicates that the cultural sequence has been complex and probably involved contact and genetic input from adjacent areas of SE Asia. To argue for human cultural and genetic continuity in the Kimberley region over a minimum of 40,000 years, is to argue for a degree of conservatism without parallel anywhere else in the world and which is at odds with the current archaeological record. Even so, there is no basis for ascribing Bradshaws, or any other prehistoric Australian rock art, to any other than the ancestors of contemporary Australian Aborigines.
It is worth noting here that at the time of European contact there was significant cultural, linguistic, artistic and genetic variation between indigenous groups across Australia, but all were by definition 'Aboriginal'.
- What evidence does the Australian Archaeological Association provide to support its argument that the art was made by the ancestors of contemporary Australian Aborigines?
- The Australian Archaeological Association said that at the time of European contact, there was significant cultural, linguistic, artistic and genetic variation across Australia, but all the humans were Aboriginal. What seems to be the criteria that the Australian Archaeological Association uses to define Aboriginal?
- How does the Australian Archaeological Association seem to define its relationship to Aboriginal peoples?
- Prior to its invasion by Napoleon, Africa had significant cultural, linguistic, artistic and genetic variation. What would be the effect of dismissing any inquiry into the unique features of ancient Egyptians on the grounds that they were, by definition, African?