Perspectives on Differences in Rock Art - Jan Magne Gjerde

Perspectives on Differences in Rock Art - Jan Magne Gjerde

Desert Rock Art: Social Geography 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. Discontinuities in symbolic repertoire (i.e. stylistic change) – and the changing placement of these graphic vocabularies – demonstrate how desert people have mapped their enacted and perceived social geographies through time. Focusing on the production of rock art within a single Western Desert Range locale, this paper explores, for the first time, the structure of this inscribed landscape at the local scale, throughout the deep-time sequence. This paper recognizes a shift in social geography, but also a shift in signaling intent. The continued use of some locations through multiple phases indicates how peoples’ relationships to these landscapes have retained importance despite discontinuities in signaling intent, while the recursive use of deep-time art production into contemporary Jukurr (Dreamings) suggests that social geography is not only about marking location, but also refers to a continuation of landscape activation in arid-zone understandings of place.

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McDonald, Jo. Desert Rock Art: Social Geography at the Local Scale. Perspectives on Differences in Rock Art. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 338-359 Apr 2021. ISBN 9781781795606. Date accessed: 03 Dec 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.31931. Apr 2021

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