From artefact to agent: rock art as contemporary phenomenon

Australia is one of the great rock art regions of the world and includes some of the earliest examples of rock art made by modern humans. Yet a major challenge facing rock art research in Australia today (and elsewhere around the world) is how to approach and engage with rock art as a contemporary phenomenon.

Using archaeological and anthropological approaches this project aimed to characterise how an Aboriginal community in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia’s Northern Territory are engaging with, and negotiating their relationship to, rock art. Although archaeological approaches predominantly represent rock art as a symbolic marker reflecting past social behaviour, far less attention has been given to the generative dimensions of archaeological insights in terms of the expression of contemporary Indigenous identity. By documenting and analysing rock art sites from three islands in Yanyuwa country and the Yanyuwa’s engagement with the resultant knowledge, this project provided new insights into the agency and generative dimensions of rock art as well as the cultural re-working of relationships to cultural heritage.

This project resulted in a greater awareness and understanding of the present-day significance, meaning and relevance of rock art to Indigenous communities.

Chief Investigators Dr Liam M. Brady & Associate Professor John J. Bradley

Funder Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Inc., USA

Date of Award 2015