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Sam Harper

Start date

Feb 2013

Submission date

Aug 2016

Sam Harper

Sam Harper profile photo


Exploring the Congruence of rock art, mythological narratives and linguistics of the Port Hedland region


The coastal Pilbara region has many rich and diverse rock art assemblages, with a number of rock art locales potentially reflecting a long time depth of art production. The rock art style provinces of the Pilbara correspond with more modern linguistic and cultural boundaries, and also with mythological narratives that can be traced across the landscape, through multiple linguistic boundaries. While there is excellent overlap between some of these distinct Pilbara rock art style regions with cultural and linguistic boundaries, some rock art traditions do not seemingly correlate closely with these boundaries.

Port Hedland falls within the Kariera cultural and linguistic boundary and will be the focus for this research. Through comparison of coastal Kariera rock art sites around Port Hedland with inland Kariera rock art sites, a number of questions will be explored. Marking of group identity will be investigated through identification and classification of the Port Hedland rock art style, which will then be compared with identified styles at inland sites. This will be undertaken within the contact of Fred McCarthy's (1962) work on the development of a proposed stylistic and temporal sequence of the Port Hedland rock art.

The sites selected are also each identified with the 'Minyiburu' song line, recorded by Kingsley Palmer (1977).

It is proposed to explore the congruence between these three lines of evidence - rock art, mythological narratives and linguistics - to explore how group identity is being negotiated within the landscape.

Why my research is important

While some archaeological work has been undertaken to record the rock art of Port Hedland, there remain large un-investigated sites which are rich in rock art and other archaeological material. Initial investigation into defining stylistic provinces within the Pilbara has been undertaken, yet detailed analysis of individual regions and chains of connection between them, and beyond the Pilbara, needs further investigation. This research aims to fill these gaps.

In addition, this project will be working with the Kariera Aboriginal community, to explore ongoing connections to these rock art sites, and engage in the process of this research with the aim of developing strategies for the future of these sites.

Methodologically, recent innovations in rock art recording will be implemented to provide high resolution, photogrammetric site records, which can then be implemented for a number of different purposes.