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Type: Journal article
Title: Survival, Social Cohesion and Rock Art: The Painted Hands of Western Arnhem Land, Australia
Author: May, S.K.
Taylor, L.
Frieman, C.
Taçon, P.S.C.
Wesley, D.
Jones, T.
Goldhahn, J.
Mungulda, C.
Citation: Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 2020; 30(3):491-510
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Issue Date: 2020
ISSN: 0959-7743
Statement of
Sally K. May, Luke Taylor, Catherine Frieman, Paul S.C. Taçon, Daryl Wesley, Tristen Jones, Joakim Goldhahn, Charlie Mungulda
Abstract: This paper explores the complex story of a particular style of rock art in western Arnhem Land known as ‘Painted Hands’. Using new evidence from recent fieldwork, we present a definition for their style, distribution and place in the stylistic chronologies of this region. We argue these motifs played an important cultural role in Aboriginal society during the period of European settlement in the region. We explore the complex messages embedded in the design features of the Painted Hands, arguing that they are more than simply hand stencils or markers of individuality. We suggest that these figures represent stylized and intensely encoded motifs with the power to communicate a high level of personal, clan and ceremonial identity at a time when all aspects of Aboriginal cultural identity were under threat.
Keywords: Rock Art; Social cohesion
Rights: © 2020 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
DOI: 10.1017/s0959774320000104
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Appears in Collections:Humanities publications

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