Story of the Rock Art

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Rock art can be found in many countries worldwide, dating back to as early as 60,000 years ago. Rock paintings and 'cave art' of indigenous people provide us with some of our earliest insights into our ancestors. Dotted throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Pacific these paintings and drawings have been the subject of considerable enquiry and interpretation. For more on world rock art go to the Bradshaw Foundation.

The majority of the rock art sites in New Zealand are found in Te Waipounamu, or the South Island. They are widely spread from Fiordland in the southeast to Karamea in the northwest. However, the major concentrations of sites are located in the limestone rich areas of the Aoraki district covering North Otago and South Canterbury.
There are two main types of rock art. The art can be scratched or carved into stone, or it can be painted or drawn onto the stone’s surface. In New Zealand it is recorded that the rock art paint was made from animal or bird fat mixed with vegetable gum and soot or kokowai (red ochre) to make black or red paint. The pigment created was known to be particularly long-lasting,and was referred to as, 'an ink that would stand forever'. In Te Waipounamu rock art was most commonly applied to limestone – its smooth pale surface providing the perfect canvas for rock art.


Manaakitia kā taoka o nehe
Embrace our treasured past


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