Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Dampier Archipelago Petroglyphs: Archaeology, Scientific Values and National Heritage Listing

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Dampier Archipelago Petroglyphs: Archaeology, Scientific Values and National Heritage Listing

Article excerpt


In 2007 the Dampier Archipelago petroglyph province was included on the National Heritage List. This paper outlines the process of determining the province's scientific values. We briefly describe our findings, which are based on all existing site data lodged with regulatory authorities. We synthesize published and unpublished systematic survey and rock art recording data collected over three decades for research and environmental impact assessment. Based on this synthesis we provide the first thorough analysis and contextualisation of petroglyph sites across the Archipelago. We compare this art province with other art style provinces in the Pilbara.

Keywords: Pilbara, Dampier Archipelago, petroglyphs, National Heritage List


The Dampier Archipelago comprises 42 islands off the coast of Karratha in the Pilbara of Western Australia (Figure 1). These islands range in size from <2 ha to more than 3 square kilometres. Murujuga (also known as the Burrup Peninsula and formerly as Dampier Island) is much larger--27 km long and 5 km wide. Prior to industrial development and the building of the causeway between Karratha and Dampier, Murujuga was separated from the mainland by tidal mudflats. Dampier is the port for distribution of iron ore from the Pilbara and is also a focus of gas processing from the North-West Shelf. The Archipelago is also home to a remarkable rock art province.


In 2004, the Dampier Archipelago was nominated for inclusion on the National Heritage List. The (then) Department of Environment and Heritage (now Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts) commissioned the authors to assess the scientific values of the nominated area (JMcDCHM 2005, 2006). The Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act 1999, defines scientific significance as one of the criteria to be considered by the Australian Heritage Council (AHC) in assessing places to be added to the National Heritage List. Our rock art analyses and study of existing site data concluded that the Dampier Archipelago petroglyph province is of outstanding scientific significance. In late 2006, the AHC published their findings which recommended that five of the eight EPBC Act heritage criteria had been met ( publicdocuments/pubs/105727_07). It is only necessary for an area to meet one criterion to be added to the List. The AHC also recommended that the boundary of the listed area include all lands which had not been impacted by existing industry and residential development.

In July 2007, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull listed 99% of the area recommended and indicated that a detailed Plan of Management would be devised to ensure that this outstanding heritage landscape will be conserved. Woodside's Pluto B development--an area which was identified by our study as containing National Heritage Values--represents, we believe, the 1% of land with values excluded from the area recommended by the AHC.

This paper highlights the results of our two studies, the first concerned with 'heritage' (i.e. all archaeological evidence), the second focussed primarily on the rock art and significant stone features. The stylistic variability evident in the art of the Archipelago is briefly described as is its representativeness of Pilbara rock art generally. The development of a predictive model for petroglyph sites is outlined, as are the results of our landuse impact assessment. Our desktop analyses have utilised the results of systematic surveys done over the last 30 years as part of the cultural heritage assessment processes related to industrialisation. We do not explore the political and management aspects of the outcome as these have been described elsewhere (see Bednarik 2002, 2006; Vinnicombe 2002) and are ongoing.

The known and predicted distribution of heritage

The Brief for the first desktop study was to:

* identify known scientific values for the Indigenous cultural heritage in the Dampier Archipelago;

* establish the known and predicted distribution of this heritage across the landscape; and,

* compare the range of motif types in the Dampier Archipelago with the range of motif types at other sites in the region to establish how representative the art on the Dampier Archipelago is of the region as a whole. …

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