Distribution of Freshwater Turtle Rock Art and Archaeological Sites in Australia: a Glimpse into Aboriginal Use of Chelonians

Bruno de Oliveira Ferronato, Arthur Georges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Turtles and tortoises have been an important part of the diet and cultural practices of Indigenous peoples throughout the world since the dawn of humanity. In Australia, freshwater turtles are an integral part of Aboriginal culture, which manifests itself in their rock art, mythology, and as a food source. Despite that, not much of the historical use of turtles by Aboriginal people has been documented, nor which species were potentially used and featured specifically in cultural lore and traditions. To fill this gap, we reviewed the published literature and collated information from rock art sites featuring freshwater turtles and records of turtle remains in archaeological sites in Australia. We report dating, if available, and overlapped records with turtle distribution maps. We recorded 130 Aboriginal art sites featuring freshwater turtles and 30 archaeological sites with freshwater turtle remains; both were most common in the Northern Territory. Using species distribution maps, we were able to confirm some turtle species identified by the original authors. Specifically, 17 of 25 turtle species in Australia have potentially been featured in rock art and 15 of the 25 have potentially been used as a food source. There is evidence that freshwater turtles were part of the diet of Aboriginal people for at least 24,000 y. Turtles were culturally important, owing to the variety of styles presented in the rock art, with turtle paintings up to about 6,000–10,000 y old. Our study expands the understanding of freshwater turtle use by Aboriginal people, and we suggest future investigations to understand current use of turtles in the country.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-54
Number of pages54
JournalHerpetological Conservation and Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2023


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