Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming
What was life like on the north-west shelf 30,000 years ago?
How can the Dreaming help explain the past in the North West of Western Australia where recent scientific discoveries have found evidence for some of Australia’s most ancient settlement? It is anticipated that this extraordinary rock art estate will produce some spectacular insights into what life was really like in deep history.
The Dampier Archipelago is a National Heritage place with an estimated one million motifs. To manage this Place more effectively there is a need to document the abundant and diverse rock art and to understand the archaeological context of these ancient landscapes. Documenting cultural values will also increase our understanding of social values and opportunities for the local Aboriginal communities. It is also hoped that this work will elevate national and international consciousness of the significance of the Murujuga heritage estate and assist in its documentation for inclusion as a World Heritage site.
In addition to the extensive array of heritage and rock art sites, the Dampier Archipelago is also home to one of the country’s largest industrial ports. This industrial landscape includes multiple Industry stakeholders as well as five traditional owner groups represented by Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) with whom university researchers and scientists are working. The heritage estate is co-managed by MAC with the National Parks Authority of WA.
This project brings together stakeholder groups to achieve a good cultural and scientific outcome.
Professor Jo McDonald
The success of the research is dependent on the collaboration and consultation of all stakeholders.
In order for the estate to gain recognition on the World Heritage List, the research team need to learn more about deep-time archaeology, the contemporary cultural values of Aboriginal people and knowledge of how they managed their cultural sites across the Archipelago.
This Linkage Project commenced in 2015 with funding from the Australian Research Council and Partner Organisation Rio Tinto Iron Ore. The 14 members of the research team are led by Professor Jo McDonald, Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research and Management at the University of Western Australia. Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) is the collaborating organisation
Although the research is in its early stages, the first rock shelter excavation has uncovered evidence of Aboriginal occupation dating before and through the last ice age and through the rising of the seas into more recent times. Pleistocene evidence had not been documented before in this heritage estate.
Site excavations on Rosemary Island – one of the outer islands – demonstrates early Holocene presence, when the rising sea levels first created the maritime shore lines of the Archipelago. An exciting discovery on Rosemary Island has been of the earliest known domestic structures in Australia, dated to between 8,000 – 9,000 years ago.
In documenting and recording the heritage of the Dampier Archipelago, the team are utilising 3D model printing to assist in visualising the rock art. Not only will this provide a visualisation opportunity for elders, many of whom are no longer physically able to visit the sites, but also provide interpretive opportunities for a planned Visitor’s Centre, and in the future the possibility of providing an income stream in the tourist souvenir market.
This research aims to provide benefit to Aboriginal communities in the area by highlighting their current values for this place and enhancing their connections to the deep past and cultural heritage. Scientific impacts have already been achieved by early occupation evidence and significant new finds such as the early house structures.
The management of this complex cultural and natural estate by MAC and the National Parks Authority requires extensive documentation and interpretative data. Management authorities and community stakeholders will be better informed about the scientific and cultural significance of the area.
The impact on the broader community will be increased awareness through visualisation and interpretation outputs for one of the most outstanding cultural sites in Australia.