Rock and a hard place: Penis revealed among Barcaldine’s rare finds

Researchers are in a lather over thousands of ancient rock art designs carved into sandstone rock near Barcaldine in the state’s central west.

Sep 26, 2022, updated Sep 28, 2022
Part of the rock art site near Barcaldine showing a penis and boomerangs. (Photo: Supplied).

Part of the rock art site near Barcaldine showing a penis and boomerangs. (Photo: Supplied).

The site within the 160-metre-long rock shelter known as Marra Wonga near Barcaldine features at least 15,000 individual rock art works including seven star-like designs, large snake-like designs, six-toed human feet and even a penis.

Professor Paul Tacon and Dr Andrea Jalandoni from the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research and Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution began working with Iningai Traditional Owners and other institutions in September 2020 to study the various art works known as petroglyphs.

Most of the site comprises petroglyphs depicting animal tracks, lines, grooves and drilled holes, as well as 111 hand-related and object stencils.

Unique compositions on the shelter wall featured seven large, engraved star-like designs with central engraved pits and large, engraved snake-like designs running across and through other petroglyphs.

There was also a cluster of human-shaped foot petroglyphs on the floor of the shelter, some with six or more toes.

Tacon said the designs appeared to have been placed in a deliberate sequence, running from south to north.

“Although the designs were likely made at different times, with an accumulation of these clusters and other rock markings over time,” he said.

“However, the order makes sense for contemporary Aboriginal community members as different parts of a Seven Sisters Dreaming story, in the correct sequence.”

Seven Sisters stories are common to many of the world’s cultures and share many features, including a connection to the Pleiades star cluster and the Orion constellation.

The ‘seven sisters’ are chased by men or a man, and sometimes a hunter and/or clever man associated with Orion, who loved and/or lusted after one or more of the sisters.

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For Marra Wonga it is interpreted as being Wattanuri and there is an engraved depiction of him at the southern end of the site.

Some of the Seven Sisters stories have an unpleasant or violent side, but Tacon said this depiction of the actions of the sisters and their pursuer in an ancient era of the Dreamtime led to the creation of landscape features across Australia that remain today.

“All rock art sites have or once had stories associated with particular designs and the sites themselves, as well as the landscapes they are a part of,” he said.

“But we know of no other rock art site anywhere in the world with a narrative that runs across the entirety of the site.

“It is very rare in the world today to have detailed ethnographic perspectives to sit alongside archaeological description, although in Australia we are fortunate that some remain strong, as with Marra Wonga.”

The team partnered with Yambangku Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Tourism Development Aboriginal Corporation (YACHATDAC) to perform the research.

The findings ‘Marra Wonga: Archaeological and contemporary First Nations interpretations of one of central Queensland’s largest rock art sites’ have been published in Australian Archaeology.

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