Gabarni, the new rock art site discovered in Myanmar

Elephant panel of rock art. The squatting human for a sense of scale and you can just barely see the outline of the top of the elephant.

Last week I was in Myanmar at the invitation of the Department of Archaeology and the Ministry of Culture to take a look at the new rock art site that was discovered last month (see here).

Gabardi Rock Art Site, Shan State, Myanmar
Gabardi Rock Art Site, Shan State, Myanmar

The Gabarni Rock Art Site, named after a nearby village, is also known as Myakhanauk. Most cases of rock art begin with their ‘discovery’ by local villagers, in this case Mr Win Bo, who found the site of behalf of amateur archaeologist Mr Soe Naing. This discovery was announced last month, but it seems like local villagers have known about the site for some years now.

U Win Bo, the local villager who along with U Soe Naing brought our attention to the site
U Win Bo, the local villager who along with U Soe Naing brought our attention to the site

The site is in western Shan State, relatively near the Padalin Caves which is pretty famous within Myanmar for its prehistoric rock art. They are however about 11km apart – a day’s travel distance. The Gabarni site is made up of a cluster of sandstone outcrops near the Pae Dwe Mountain.

Drone view over the Gabarni rock art site.
Drone view over the Gabarni rock art site.

The largest sandstone shelter is a really good habitation area, comfortably accommodating 20 people and the entire complex might house around 50 people. Habitation may have occurred up to recent times, as this largest shelter contains graffiti, some with dates from the 1970s and 1990s. There is some rock art in the ceiling of the shelter, but because of campfires a lot of soot has obscured the paintings.

View from inside the largest shelter. There is rock art on the ceiling, but mostly obscured by soot.
View from inside the largest shelter. There is rock art on the ceiling, but mostly obscured by soot.

The most prominent rock art is on another shelter that has a large flat wall from which to paint on. Here there is a painting of an elephant, which is barely visible now except for the top outline. You can see from the human scale that the elephant was pretty much life-sized.

Elephant panel of rock art. The squatting human for a sense of scale and you can just barely see the outline of the top of the elephant.
Elephant panel of rock art. The squatting human for a sense of scale and you can just barely see the outline of the top of the elephant.

The Department of Archaeology intends to properly document and investigate the site later this year, so I’ll refrain from saying much more about the rock art other than they seem to be very old, and they don’t appear to be similar to the Padalin Cave paintings despite the proximity. If you are going to the EurASEAA conference in Paris, I will be making a more detailed presentation of the site on behalf of the Ministry, so catch it if you’re there!

The visiting team group photo from last week, with U Win Bo and U Soe Naing in the middle.
The visiting team group photo from last week, with U Win Bo and U Soe Naing in the middle.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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