The heritage significance of the Dampier Archipelago
The rock art of the Dampier Archipelago is extraordinary in its diversity and density and is probably the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the world. The range of different states of weathering indicates that the petroglyphs were produced over a long time period and the degree of weathering of certain stylistic elements suggests a likely antiquity of tens of thousands of years for at least some of the motifs. This is comparable in age to the Palaeolithic art of Western Europe.
The petroglyphs are intimately associated with a rich and complex archaeological record with a range of elements including evidence of occupation, bedrock grinding patches, quarries and stone arrangements.
The Dampier Archipelago has outstanding potential for archaeological research. The archaeological material provides evidence of complex adaptations to a distinctive and unique coastal environment on the margins of the present arid zone over the last 9000 years. The long time span of occupation has the potential to document human adaptations when the ‘Dampier Ranges’ was part of the Ice Age mainland and then trace adaptation to rising sea levels and long-term climatic changes, in the context of understanding the colonisation of the Australian continent. The complex associations between different cultural elements have the potential to yield insights into the relationships between sacred and secular aspects of life over a long time span.
The study of the stone structures of the Dampier Archipelago is urgently required to distinguish natural from cultural features and to understand the functions of those structures that are artificial. The transformation of the landscape represented by petroglyphs and by stone arrangements and by other stone features is on a scale that is rare both in Australia and in the context of hunter-gatherer archaeology worldwide.
The limited analytical research into the distribution in time and space of petroglyphs in particular areas and their relationship to the distribution of other classes of archaeological evidence indicates the research potential of the Dampier Archipelago.
While this study has focused on the scientific values of the Dampier Archipelago, it is clear that the area is highly significant to Aboriginal people.