Archaeology and rock art in the Dampier Archipelago header

Archaeology and rock art in the Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago contains the largest concentration of rock art in the world, estimated at perhaps a million Petroglyphs. The art is extraordinary in its range and diversity. Associated with the art is a rich archaeological record, including camp sites, quarries, shell middens and stone features. Many motifs and some stone features are connected to the beliefs and ceremonial practices of Aboriginal people in the Pilbara region today. The entire Archipelago is a continuous Cultural Landscape providing a detailed record of both sacred and secular life reaching from the present back into the past, perhaps to the first settlement of Australia.

The combination of cultural richness and scientific potential of the Dampier Archipelago has been known since the 1960s. Repeated archaeological investigations of the area over the last forty years have reinforced the view that the cultural landscape of the Dampier Archipelago is highly significant by international standards and demands comprehensive study. Nevertheless, the same period has seen the planning and establishment of major industrial and infrastructure developments in the area with little regard for its heritage values. There is still no comprehensive management plan based on sound archaeological research and consultation with local Aboriginal people. Heritage consultants investigate and make recommendations on specific projects in a vacuum without a comprehensive understanding of the values of the area as a whole. As a result, the outstanding heritage values of the area continue to be compromised by short-term industrial imperatives. Sites are physically destroyed by construction, eroded or polluted by industrial emissions, damaged deliberately or accidentally by visitors as population grows and road access develops. Some sites survive, but in a radically transformed and unsympathetic landscape.

The National Trust of Australia (WA) and the Hon. Robin Chapple MLC nominated the Burrup Peninsula to the National Trust Endangered Places List in 2002. In 2003 the World Monuments Fund added it to its list of Most Endangered Places-the first time an Australian place had been included. In 2004, the National Trust, the Native Title Claimants and Robert Bednarik, President of the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations, nominated the Dampier Archipelago to the National Heritage list, under the new Commonwealth heritage legislation.

The Dampier Archipelago is highly significant for Aboriginal people in the Pilbara and beyond. As a unique record of human achievement, it also has significance at the national and international scale. However, there is little information about the archaeology and rock art of the Dampier Archipelago that is readily accessible to the public. Most of the information is in unpublished technical reports.

The bulk of the content of this website has been taken from a National Trust commissioned report written by Sylvia Hallam and Caroline Bird which describes heritage values and conservation issues in the Dampier Archipelago for a general audience. Its main focus is on the archaeological and scientific importance of the area, while acknowledging its continuing significance to Aboriginal people. This report is based on a longer and more technical review of the values of the Dampier Archipelago, also commissioned by the National Trust of Australia (WA), which aims to describe what is known and what is not known about the cultural heritage of the area, to outline its significance, and to identify the key issues with respect to its conservation for future generations. Both reports can be downloaded from this website.


Financial support was provided for the  study which forms the basis of this website by American Express through the World Monuments Fund.  Photos by Robin Chapple, Sylvia Hallam and Jim Rhoads. Drawings by Caroline Bird.