Modified Trees (Scar Trees)

Aboriginal Scar Tree (Dendroglyph)

Aboriginal Scar Tree (Dendroglyph)

Modified trees or ‘scar trees’ are trees which have been modified by Aboriginal people for a variety of different uses. Modifications include carved artworks and scars resulting from:

  • The creation of wood or bark containers for carrying food and water. Such containers may also be utilised for digging, and where the platter’s size is large enough, dressed with soft furs or woven matting – to occasionally serve as a comfortable bed/carrier for an infant.
  • The removal of either bark, or timber, for use in the production of a shield (broad or parrying).
  • A series of holes/marks cut into the trunk of a tree to be used as footholds, to enable a person to climb in search of honey, birds, eggs, possums, or other game. Holes may also be the result of extracting said game from within the trunk.
  • The production of ceremonial or place markers. These elaborate markings are known as dendroglyphs, and are found in two forms. The first form denotes a ceremonial usage, where certain aspects of culture were taught (teleteglyphs). They may also indicate a place, and are primarily an indication of a burial site (taphoglyphs). Such markers are produced in a similar method as utilised in the creation of a bark container, where once a section of bark has been removed from the tree a glyph may be carved directly into the tree’s sapwood. Taphoglyphs are most commonly associated with the Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi (Gomeroi) Nations of Western new South Wales. However, examples of teleteglyphs historically were found throughout New South Wales and into Victoria, along a small section of the Murray River.
  • The production of watercraft. ‘Canoe tree’ scars are similar to those found where a bark container has been removed from a tree for either the production of a container, or shield, but are generally much larger in size. Canoe trees are the most likely modified trees to be misidentified, often being confused with lightning strikes, where part of a tree has been blown out by an electrical charge. These natural scars generally begin at the base of a tree, unlike the majority of those that have been modified by humans.
  • ‘Ring trees’ are those which have been modified early in their growth, either by placing a stone or another object in a partial split of a sapling’s trunk, or by binding a branch to another section of the tree. These trees are believed to have been used to mark the boundaries between one Nation and another. These trees are most commonly associated with Clans and Nations found along the Murray River, but are also found in many other areas in South Eastern Australia.

Scar trees are more common in the Australian landscape than most non-Indigenous people might realise. They are both a reminder of the past, and a contemporary expression of cultural knowledge. 

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3 Responses

  1. Liam Skeates-Udy says:

    what tools did the artist/s use in crafting their work?

    • says:

      Hi Liam,

      Many of the trees that still exist were carved using steel tools. They tend to have deeper and straighter cuts. Older carved trees were cut using flaked stone tools and ground edged axes.


  2. Melissa Wheaton says:

    Hi, I was wondering what the process would be for removal of a scarred tree to build an extension on school grounds. I am personally against it and was wondering how to prevent it. The local botanical garden experts have said it is over 300 years old and the markings indicate that it was used for burial ceremonies. Can you advise me on the best places to get further information.

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