This paper is based on a presentation at the Southern Regional Conference of Optometrists Association Australia in Melbourne, 16 May 2011, at which the author was presented with the H Barry Collin Research Medal. In the original presentation there were several examples of more physical research in vision, as befits study by an optometrist, that were used as a prelude to the substance of this paper, in which more abstract visual inferences are needed to interpret ancient rock art.
Iconography in Bradshaw rock art: breaking the circularityb
Article first published online: 24 AUG 2011
© 2011 The Author. Clinical and Experimental Optometry © 2011 Optometrists Association Australia
Clinical and Experimental Optometry
Volume 94, Issue 5, pages 403–417, September 2011
How to Cite
Pettigrew, J. (2011), Iconography in Bradshaw rock art: breaking the circularity. Clinical and Experimental Optometry, 94: 403–417. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-0938.2011.00648.x
There are several alternative, indigenous names for this art, such as Gwion Gwion, Jingo Jinga, Going Going et cetera). At first sight, these might be considered preferable to the non-indigenous, although internationally well established, ‘Bradshaw’ but there are several reasons for continuing to use the latter. The key reason for avoiding the recently proposed terms is that they have the implication of continuity between Bradshaw and indigenous cultures, an open question for which Walsh was attacked, but one requiring much more research at present, despite the fact that continuity is commonly assumed. The key issue in this discussion is preservation of cultural heritage but it is often forgotten that this cuts both ways, to apply both to the extinct Bradshaw culture as well as to indigenous Aboriginal culture, whether or not there might have been a discontinuity between them. There are plenty of voices speaking up on behalf of indigenous Kimberley cultures. If the extinct Bradshaw culture was discontinuous, who will reveal this and speak up on its behalf, using science to make the reconstruction, instead of assuming a continuous scenario and so running the risk of losing many of the important details of the minority culture as it is submerged?
- Issue published online: 24 AUG 2011
- Article first published online: 24 AUG 2011
- Submitted: 12 May 2011; Revised: 6 June 2011; Accepted for publication: 10 June 2011
- Bradshaw rock art;
- mushroom head;
- Toba megavolcano;
- trance visualisations
Background: Interpreting the symbols found in the rock art of an extinct culture is hampered by the fact that such symbols are culturally determined. How does one break the circularity inherent in the fact that the knowledge of both the symbols and the culture comes from the same source? In this study, the circularity is broken for the Bradshaw rock art of the Kimberley by seeking anchors from outside the culture.
Methods: Bradshaw rock art in the Kimberley region of Australia and Sandawe rock art in the Kolo region of Eastern Tanzania were surveyed in six visits on foot, by vehicle, by helicopter and from published or shared images, as well as from the published and online images of Khoisan rock art.
Results: Uniquely shared images between Bradshaw and Sandawe art, such as the ‘mushroom head’ symbol of psilocybin use, link the two cultures and indicate that they were shamanistic. Therefore, many mysterious features in the art can be understood in terms of trance visualisations. A number of other features uniquely link Bradshaw and Sandawe cultures, such as a special affinity for small mammals. There are also many references to baobabs in early Bradshaw art but not later. This can be explained in the context of the Toba super-volcano, the likely human transport of baobabs to the Kimberley and the extraordinary utility of the baobab.
Conclusion: Many more mysterious symbols in Bradshaw rock art might await interpretation using the approaches adopted here.