Australian Archaeological Association (AAA)

Media Release 29th May 2015

 Liz Vaughan

Is it a lion or a tiger?

Review of Kimberley rock art suggests images are of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger


The suggestion that Australia’s largest carnivorous mammal, the Marsupial Lion (Thalacaleo carnifex), is depicted in Kimberley rock art has been questioned. New research published in the June issue of Australian Archaeology argues that the image is in fact of a Thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Tiger.


Is this man spearing a Thylacoleo or a Thylacine? David Welch’s article suggests it is a Thylacine. Photo: Michael Rainsbury.

Thalacaleo is argued to have become extinct 46 000 years ago, and has been used to advance theories of a deep time-depth for some Kimberley rock art. The Tasmanian Tiger survived on the mainland until 3 500 years ago, until the arrival of the dingo outcompeted them.

The dingo is thought to have been brought to Australia on boats as people from mainland Asia spread through near and far Oceania. Continued evidence for SE Asian presence in Australia is being investigated by Australian archaeologists, published in the June Australian Archaeology journal. Archaeologists are reporting the discovery of glass and stone beads from the Manganowal site in the Wellington Range, northwest Arnhem land. From at least the mid-1700’s  Macassans  would sail to the Northern Territory and Kimberley to collect trepang (sea cucumber)– an Asian delicacy. The new discovery of beads by archaeologists in archaeological sites from the Northern Territory provides further understandings of the hybrid economies between Aboriginal people, Macassans and European early settlers, and indicates these beads were introduced before the development of missions in the region.