Extraordinary engraved bird track from North Australia: extinct fauna, Dreaming Being and/or aesthetic masterpiece?

Sven Ouzman, Paul Tacon, kenneth Mulvaney, Richard Fullagar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


An extraordinary engraved bird track was located in the Weaber Range of the Keep River region of Australia’s Northern Territory in July 2000. This engraved track is dissimilar to most other examples in Australian rock-art, differing in shape, size and detail from the thousands of engraved, painted or beeswax depictions of bird tracks known from sites across the country. Importantly, it also differs in technique from other engraved tracks in the Keep River region, having been rubbed and abraded to a smooth finish. We explore three possibilities regarding the engraved track’s significance, that it: (a) depicts the track of an extinct bird species; (b) relates to Aboriginal beliefs regarding Dreaming Beings; and (c) is a powerful aesthetic achievement that reflects rare observation of emu tracks. We conclude that the Weaber bird track engraving more probably represents a relatively recent visual expression of ancient Aboriginal thoughts that have been transmitted through the centuries via story-telling and rock-art. This discussion highlights problems of assigning identification and meaning to ancient art but also suggests aspects of history may be passed across generations for much longer than is commonly realised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-112
Number of pages9
JournalCambridge Archaeological Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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