Extending the Context for Segmented Circles in the Rock Art of the ‘Yam Figure’ Style, West Arnhem Land

04th December 2013

Hammond 2013Analysis of the ‘Yam Figure’ style of rock art of West Arnhem Land, once described as ‘enigmatic’, has challenged researchers because of the diverse symbols such as the abstract motif of a segmented circle. Published illustrations of rock paintings in this style by Brandl (1973, 1977), Chaloupka (1977, 1984, 1993), Lewis (1988), Welch (1982) and Taçon (1996) show this motif painted at 21 different sites alongside simple yam, yam anthropomorphs or composite Rainbow Snake figures. In these illustrations the numbers of segments varied between three, four (the most common), five, six, seven and, in one case, 12. The prevalence of this motif can be drawn from unpublished rock art surveys such as one by Chaloupka (1985) where he recorded a segmented circle at only three of the 72 ‘Yam Figure’ sites in the Deaf Adder Creek area. More extensive field surveys by Taçon conducted in the early to mid-1990s located some 308 ‘Yam Figure’ sites; a subset of 70 were analysed by Berry (2011) who showed segmented circles occurring at 11. Interpretations of the motif include that of a sacred object or emblem, a yam oven, the eggs of the Rainbow snake, a sea urchin, a waterlily root and the carpels of a waterlily fruit. During a review of personal records and examples of published motifs, segmented circles appear not just in their classical context (described above). In one case the motif has been painted, not alongside, but within a simple yam figure and at two sites multiple motifs of segmented circles occur without any other associated motifs in the ‘Yam Figure’ Style.

The citation for this poster is:

Hammond, J. 2013 Extending the Context for Segmented Circles in the Rock Art of the ‘Yam Figure’ Style, West Arnhem Land. Poster presented at the AAA Annual Conference, 2-4 December, Coffs Harbour.

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