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date: 22 January 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The multiple Aboriginal rock art traditions of Australia’s Kimberley contain primary evidence of commensal human–plant relationships that we term ‘ecoscaping’. Produced over tens of thousands of years, Kimberley rock art contains up to 25% of sites with plant depictions in some of its earliest traditions, which date to at least 16,000 years ago. A finite range of food and medicinal plants are depicted (yams, tubers, fruits, as well as paint-soaked grasses pressed onto rock walls) in structured iconographic and landscape contexts. Very few gatherer-hunter rock arts globally offer such plentiful, detailed, and archaeologically and palaeoenvironmentally contextualized evidence of plants in both daily life and symbolic thought. We suggest that this rock art is evidence of an entangled landscape that combines geography, hydrology, biological vitality, and anthropological dynamics—an ‘ecoscaping’ that differs from more deterministic formulations such as ‘domiculture’. Kimberley plant rock art is best understood as a key artefact and practice in how people managed the often extreme environmental and concomitant social change the Kimberley has experienced.

Keywords: Aboriginal, archaeology, Australia, ecoscaping, Kimberley, palaeoenvironments, plants, rock art

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