Pecked Cupule Period
Pecked Cupule art panels falls into three definable groupings, although examples of random small clusters are occasionally found. These groupings include:
Grand Panels are major concentrations, ranging from hundreds to several thousand examples, and are invariably associated with near vertical walls within shelters, close to sandy habitation floors. Wall panels do not have to be straight and can curve around entrance areas, and at times extend onto ceilings.
Monumental Panels are noteworthy concentrations on significant monumental formations, usually pillars, archways or shallow open-ended tunnels. These are mostly in some form of shelter, but at times are on a near, exposed area of freestanding stone formation.
Lazy Days Panels are small concentrations, ranging up to several hundred cupules, located on lower wall and sloping areas within comfortable reach of a person relaxing on the floor deposits.
An example of a Monumental Panel of Pebraded Cupules can be seen below, decorating sections of a remarkable, natural pillar, 770mm in diameter, which acts as a 1700mm central support to a very extensive shelter.
Pecked Pits – artifical concavities, under 25mm in diameter. A magnificent, naturally sculptured pillar, 1730mm tall and 770x900mm along its maximum centre faces. On its upper southern ‘shoulder’ are many Pecked Pits, clustered close together, and quite deep, making a spectacular view.
Examples of ‘ordered’ pecked cupule arrangements are encountered in rare instances among far east Kimberley sites, mostly involving montages of single cupules to form near-horizontal lines.
Shown below is a section of an extensive wall panel showing various engraved application events. The low contrast and largely patinated Pecked Cupules are the earliest event, later superimposed by engraved macropod and bird tracks, which range from 200x160mm to 370x180mm. These are in turn superimposed by a quite recent event involving ‘retouch’ to ancient motifs of both preceding events, converting their surfaces again to high contrast. In this phase, the artists of the far eastern Kimberley and far north-west Northern Territory created ordered patterns of pecked cupules, or selectively modified existing cupules to attain this visual effect, as is evident in the upper area of this panel.
Pecked Cupules – artifical concavities, 25-80mm in diameter. The patinated Pecked Cupules are the earliest event, later superimposed by bird and macropod tracks which range from 200x160mm to 370x180mm.
Sites chosen by Kimberley Pecked Cupule artists share a particular attribute they have floor areas suitable for at least limited forms of habitation. Loose sand is usually found at the sites, although it does not necessarily cover an extensive area. Generally, it could be said that artists of the Pecked Cupule Period shared site location requirements common to those of the Irregular Infill Animal Period and the recent Wanjina Period.
In this site, late afternoon sun highlights a section of a Grand Panel of Pecked Cupules now covered beneath dense layers of repainted art in a Cathedral Class regional Wanjina gallery. The polychrome overlying painting is a 290x2200mm horizontal Wanjina sugarbag (native bee hive) painting.
Wanjina Bee–hive painted over pecked pit wall panel. On the pecked surface areas not overpainted are thick layers of oxalate buildup, the pits appear to be of great antiquity.
A panel of patinated ancient Pecked Pits are on a large separated block. A huge ceiling block has collapsed and fallen down over them, and it is on a ‘ceiling’ area of this that a Horseshoe Head Figure is painted, together with numerous other figures, including a clear brown 3890x120mm later ‘Bradshaw’, indicating that these all postdate the Pecked Pits.
This collapsed rock offers a rare opportunity to provide a minimum date for these pecked cupules.
In some sites, unusually shaped natural rock slabs, outcrops and boulders have been the subject of concentrated Pebraded Cupule activity, whereas the remainder of the often spacious shelters remain untouched.
In the recent Wanjina Period, this site has been recycled as a major Basilica Class regional Wanjina gallery, and the slab decorated by the early culture has been used as a platform for multiple cached burials. Plate photos of 1901 show the gallery with masses of vegetation stacked on the slab to act as bedding for the burials. This has long since deteriorated, and the burial remains have been scattered.
One of the rare examples of abraded figurative motifs, apparently directly related to Pecked Cupule art, can be seen in the middle of the concentration, and detail of the ‘lizard-like’ motif is shown.
Prebraded Cupules – formed by pecking and abrasive polishing. An example of Pebraded Cupules concentrated on an unusually shaped 1840x620mm natural rock slab.
These trough-like grinding hollows appear to be of great antiquity, being not only fully patinated but covered with a thick surface skin which has formed since use.
The most logical explanation for the lack of availability of seed resources would seem to be climatic change. The best documented and most recent major climatic change is associated with the Last Glacial Maximum, 18,000–20,0000BP, and as geological attributes of these abandoned surfaces show seed preparation was a local practice linked to archaic times, these activities presumably predate that time.
In this and similar sites, evidence of sea shells littering the surfaces of site floor and approach areas confirms that the use of marine resources as an important food persisted into historical times. Use of such resources could only have been possible during the last 6000–8000 years, when rising sea levels advanced the shore line hundreds of kilometres inland. Seed gathering and preparation practices are time and labour-intensive, and are recognised as unavoidable prerequisites for the survival of significant populations, particularly in low-resource environments common to the arid inland. However, marine resources provide a more efficient ratio of energy expended to resource acquisition, so the change of focus and activities was a logical development when rising sea levels provided this option. These examples of rock surface modification suggest that this process continued into historical times.
Non-functional abraded grooves and grinding hollows. – There are masses of shells around the shelter entrance, including cockle types, a few mud whelks, some small ‘hermit type’ species. Only one fragment of a macropod jaw, suggesting the diet has been almost entirely shellfish as food. Also in the floor shelves are a number of large, deep, long trough-shaped abraded grooves, grinding hollows, fully patinated.
The above text and images are taken and adapted from Grahame L. Walsh’s 2000 publication, Bradshaw Art of the Kimberley.