Ancient artists used several techniques to paint images on rock. Sometimes they drew by hand, but other times they would place an object like a hand, a leaf, or a boomerang against the wall and spatter it with paint, leaving behind a spray of color surrounding a silhouette of the object. This may sound like a simple way to produce art, but there's new evidence that it could be a fairly complex process. People in northern Australia seem to have used beeswax to shape miniature stencils to paint on the walls of Yilbilinji Rock Shelter in Limmen National Park.
Welcome to Marra Country
The miniature images are part of a veritable gallery of rock art on the roof and rear walls of Yilbilinji. Over thousands of years, people came here to paint people, animals, objects, tracks, dots, and geometric motifs in striking red, yellow, black, and white. There’s even a European smoking pipe in the mix, which shows that at least some of the paintings must have been created after the colonists arrived.
Out of 355 images painted on the walls, only 59 are stencils—outlines of full-sized hands and forearms surrounded by sprays of white pigment (probably made with local kaolin clay). But 17 of those stencils are too small to have been done the usual way, by spattering an actual object with paint to leave a life-sized outline on the wall. They depict people—sometimes holding boomerangs and shields or wearing headdresses—crabs, echidna, at least two species of turtle, kangaroo pawprints, and geometric shapes.