Investigating some of the world’s most complex figurative rock art

Rock Art Styles Provinces of Northern Australia (2016-2022).  ARC LP150100490

Kimberley Visions is a 5-year multidisciplinary and collaborative archaeological project investigating 50,000 years of human life through the many rock art traditions of the East Kimberley.

This project helps us understand two things. Firstly, how people lived in this landscape over the last 50,000 or more years. Secondly, how Kimberley peoples connected with groups living in what is today Arnhem Land to the east, desert areas to the south, and Island South East Asia to the north – including the ~400,000 km2 of  ancient plains that are now underwater. We need to imagine a much larger, northern cultural ‘bloc’ of people in the past, using rock art to map and understand it.  Kimberley Visions is at a mature phase with another 18 months to run. Research and recording outputs are being directed towards community engagement and cultural heritage management. This includes establishing site visitation protocols for the public, using ‘right way’ fire to protect sites, advising on impacts of mining and development, and developing rock art sites and resources for use in local communities (schools, tourism) – and nationally/internationally.

The Kimberley Visions Team

Kimberley Visions is an Australian Research Council Linkage Project led by the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Rock Art Research + Management. The Kimberley Foundation Australia is the primary funder. Partners include Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation and Rangers, Dunkeld Pastoral Company and the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions – all providing essential logistical support.

Partners include  Monash University, the University of Melbourne, and (France) represented by Bruno David (Monash), Jean-Jacques Delannoy (Université Savoie Mont Blanc, France), Andy Gleadow (Melbourne), Sven Ouzman (UWA, Project CI 2018-present), Martin Porr (UWA), Peter Veth (UWA, Project CI 2016-2018), and Leslie Zubieta-Calvert (Barcelona), with Sam Harper as Research Fellow and Project Manager (Lucia Clayton-Martinez in 2019). The project collaborates closely with Traditional Owners including Ambrose Chaliramieri, Augustine Unhango, Scotty Unhango, Bernadette Waina, Ian Waina, Rowan Waina, Adrian French, Gareth Karadada, Michael Mangalomara – with thanks to Traudl Tan. The project also works closely with the Rock Art Dating team to share knowledge and resources.

Postgraduates

Kimberley Visions is helping train the next generation of archaeologists and the four PhD students are a key part of the team.

Marine Benoit’s stone tool analysis PhD will be submitted end 2020/early 2021. Mariangela Lanza (GIS and human mobility) and Ana Paula Motta (rock art and identity) will submit in 2021 and 2022; Emily Grey (plants in Kimberley rock art) has 2+ years to go. Affiliated PhD candidate Madeleine Kelly is analysing Wardaman rock art, which will provide an invaluable dataset for comparative work between the Kimberley and Victoria River District (NT). Kim Genuite, whose PhD in France used the work he undertook on Kimberley Visions work was awarded with flying colours.

Fieldwork

In 2019 three field camps were held.

6-10 weeks of fieldwork is typically conducted in the dry season June-September with pre and post reporting to BAC Directors and Rangers and advice taken. In 2019 three field camps were held. Two were research-focused along the Drysdale marraran (river) recording sites; two sites were excavated, GIS mapping (thanks to an additional PhD grant by the Kimberley Society), and stone quarries recorded. The third camp at the new DBCA marine base north of Kalumburu focused on community outreach, working with women, recording sites of historic/ethnographic importance and recording rock art sites visited by the public to guide management plans for those sites.

Three field camps were held in 2018 – two on the Drysdale marraran and one on the King George marraran. Finds including an unexpectedly rich set of sites on the plateau, suggesting seasonal use of the wider landscape. Drones helped map landscapes for use in understanding past human movements and site choice. The Kimberley Society provided grants to PhD students to access more remote areas as well as pay for radiocarbon dates from excavation of a rare large open site plus two others combined with rock art and site recording.

The team thanks Susan Bradley, Leigh Douglas, ben gunn, Pauline Heaney, Madeleine Kelly, Peter Kendrick, Darell Lewis, Jo McDonald, Michi Maier, Colin Morgan, Ken Mulvaney, Jen Munro, Cecilia Myers, Joc Schmeichen, Nick Sundblom, and Ron Witt – and Tracey, John and the Doongan and Theda crews.

Public Archaeology

The 196 research days in the field have far enabled > 460 on-country days for Traditional Owners. Additional outreach includes:
• Back to Country visit by Kalumburu Junior Rangers to the King George River
• Interactive classes and site visits with Wyndham and Kalumburu primary school and high school students
• Bringing Traditional Owners to UWA’s Research Week
• A dedicated field trip to Kalumburu and environs recording women’s experiences, ethnographic sites, and advising on rock art site management
• Our 2021 work will be base in Wyndham, combining research into this crucial eastern rock art region, with community outreach.

Research Outputs

Seven peer-review partner-authored collaborative papers have been produced to date. These include the 50,000 year old Minjiwarra site – one of the Kimberley – and Australia’s oldest known sites. A new rock art style – ‘Stout figures’ was identified and meticulous excavation that found ochre droplets left by painters over 3,000 years ago was found in archaeological deposit using pioneering micomorphological techniques. More than a dozen papers are in press or pre-press, and a book is underway. Findings have been presented at over 200 conferences.

The project has had input into current reviews of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act by the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage. The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has approached the team regarding future showcasing of the Kimberley’s cultural heritage, and the relationship continues with the Western Australia Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions on managing cultural sites on public lands and informing public policy.

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One of the earliest dated sites for human occupation in the Kimberley. >
Kimberley Stout Figures. >
Dating painting events through by-products of ochre processing: Borologa 1 Rockshelter, Kimberley, Australia. >
Professor Joakim Goldhahn, Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art at University of Western Australia. >