December 10, 2020

2.3 Innovative Research in Australia: Science and Context in Rock Art Studies

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Prof. Jo McDonald,

Director of the Centre for Rock Art Studies & Management;

Rio Tinto Chair in Rock Art Studies, University of Western Australia.


The Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming project aims to provide research support for the protection and understanding of the world’s largest rock art galleries of Murujuga (the Burrup Peninsula) and the Dampier Archipelago.


Dr. Sally K. May, 

Senior Research Fellow with the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) at Griffith University, Australia.



May, S. K., Wright, D., Domingo Sanz, I., Goldhahn, J. & Maralngurra, G. In press. ‘The Buffaroo: a ‘first-sight’ depiction of introduced buffalo in the rock art of western Arnhem Land, Australia. Rock Art Research.

May, S.K., Taçon, P.S.C., Jalandoni, A., Goldhahn, A., Wesley, D., Tsang, R. & Mangiru, K. In press. The re-emergence of nganaparru (water buffalo) into western Arnhem Land life, landscape and rock art’.  Antiquity.

May, S.K., Rademaker, L. Nadjamerrek, D. & Narndal Gumurdul, J. 2020. The Bible in Buffalo Country: Oenpelli Mission 1925-1931. Canberra, ANU Press. 

Frieman, C.J. & May, S.K. 2019. ‘Navigating Contact: Tradition and Innovation in Australian Contact Rock Art’. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17.

The introduction of new animals into hunter-gatherer societies worldwide enacted a variety of responses. In many places, such animals became part of creative artistic practices including rock art. This paper explores the role of rock art in western Arnhem Land, Australia, in helping to mediate changes in Indigenous society in the 19th century. Merging an archaeological analysis with anthropological literature we explore both an etic and emic perspective on the “introduction” or “re-emergence” of water buffalo into Aboriginal life and culture. In the past, some outsiders have viewed paintings of water buffalo as ‘casual’ art and analysed such artworks from an etic perspective. This paper offers an understanding of such artworks that is grounded in local ontological perceptions. The article demonstrates how artworks depicting water buffalo, as with other similar subject matter, were used as a tool for navigating change and for maintaining order in the face of dramatic changes.


This is a podcast about new and innovative research in archaeology.

Each episode I talk with pioneering and influential archaeologists about their journal papers, books and research projects.

Season 1 is all about the latest research into the Archaeology of the Roman West.

Season 2 is on Innovative Research in Australia.

Season 3 is on Early Medieval Europe.

Future Seasons:  Well, I'm open to suggestions!  

Medieval Europe, Osteoarchaeology, Mesoamerica, Pacific Archaeology, Prehistoric Burials, Post-Medieval, Scientific Techniques, South-east Asia, Bronze Age Monuments. You tell me!

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