Painting Contact: Characterising the Paints of the South Woronora Plateau Rock Art Assemblage, Wollongong, New South Wales

01st December 2007

Jillian Ford

BA(Hons), School of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Australian National University, October 2006

This thesis documents the micro-morphological, geochemical and mineralogical characterisation of selected paint samples from stencil and pictographic motifs at the south Woronora Plateau rock art assemblage. Extra-local paint samples were also analysed from a rockshelter on the nearby Mittagong Tablelands. The social context of the production of rock paintings, stencils and amorphous pigment applications is examined through the use of x-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy (including energy dispersive x-ray analysis), and proton-induced x-ray and proton-induced gamma-ray emission analyses.

It is argued that the majority of the paints characterised are derived from the third and final phase of the south Woronora Plateau rock art sequence and date to the period of contact between the producers of rock art and Europeans. Comparison with paints from the second phase of the Woronora and SydneyBasin rock art sequences show that there is no change in pigment types or paint recipes through time. Comparisons between the paints derived from the Woronora and the extra-local samples show that the same types of pigment were being exploited both on the Plateau and the adjacent Tablelands.

The paints analysed are clay-based pigments, most likely sourced locally from the clays and micas of the Illawarra coal measures which would be expected to display a large range of within-source variability. Statistical analysis of the trace element chemistry showed some grouping of samples, indicating that discrete source locales may be geochemically visible. Drawing on historical data generated from the commercial exploitation of clay resources in the Illawarra region potential pigment source locales are identified.

This thesis clearly reinforces the value of characterisation investigations as a complement to regional archaeological studies. The research provides an exciting indication of the potential for pigment sourcing studies in the Illawarra and broader Sydney Basin. Further pigment sourcing research in the region may yield information regarding whether access to pigment sources was restricted as a result of European settlement. Changes in pigment source locales through time may further an understanding of the prehistoric socialisation of landscape. Pigment sourcing studies may provide insights into regional and inter-regional trade and exchange in the Illawarra and the Sydney Basin.

Jillian Ford
Painting Contact: Characterising the Paints of the South Woronora Plateau Rock Art Assemblage, Wollongong, New South Wales
December 2007
Thesis Abstracts
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