Desert Rock Art: Social Geography and Stylistic Variability at the Local Scale

Perspectives on Differences in Rock Art - Jan Magne Gjerde

Jo McDonald [+-]
University of Western Australia
Jo McDonald is the Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management at the University of Western Australia and holds the Rio Tinto Chair of Rock Art. Her PhD research in the Sydney Basin contextualized rock art production of engraving and pigment sites the sandstone country of the Sydney Bsain. She has studied the rock art of the Western Desert and Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga) for the last two decades, completing an ARC Future Fellowship focused on arid zone rock art in Australia and the USA. Jo has recently been the Lead Chief Investigator (CI) for the Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming ARC Linkage Project, and is a CI on the Deep History of Sea Country ARC Project. She is currently working on rock art dating across the arid zone, and is developing a project with Aboriginal communities from the Western Desert and Pilbara coast on inter-generational and cross-cultural knowledge exchange.


Australia’s 50,000 year old desert occupation chronology is matched by a deep-time style sequence. Changing symbolic repertoires (i.e. stylistic change) and the ways that these changing graphic vocabularies are used to mark the land demonstrate how desert people have mapped their social geographies through time. Focussing on the rock art production a single Western Desert range, this paper explores the structure of this symbolic landscape at the local scale. The Western Desert style sequence can be perceived as change in a combination of form, subject, technique, medium, character and scale, but also placement. The different ways that the landscape has been inscribed through time is evidence for an enacted and perceived social geography. By focusing at this micro-scale – this chapter develops a time-series approach to rock art as a way of understanding changes in the deep time production histories for arid zone symbolic behaviour.

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McDonald, Jo. Desert Rock Art: Social Geography and Stylistic Variability at the Local Scale. Perspectives on Differences in Rock Art. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Nov 2020. ISBN 9781781795606. Date accessed: 03 Aug 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.31931. Nov 2020

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