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The Australian National University

Ms Melissa Marshall

Position: Phd candidate in Archaeology

School or Centre: School of Archaeology & Anthropology


Thesis title: 21st Century Approaches to the Conservation of Rock Art Sites in Australia: with a focus on western Arnhem Land and the Kimberley Region

The scientific conservation and management of rock art sites in Australia has traditionally been undertaken within a National Parks framework or as part of ‘rescue’ archaeology in Australia. To date there has been limited research into this area, but with the growing field of cultural heritage tourism and industrial development, this has meant that sites that were previously protected due in part to their remote geographic locations, and that of the efforts of site custodians and Aboriginal heritage departments to keep their locations a secret, are now being impacted upon in ways that were largely unforeseen.
The proposed PhD research will investigate the natural and cultural impacts on rock art sites in Australia today. The research will focus on the intertwining of western scientific approaches with traditional Indigenous techniques for caring for country to preserve rock art that is facing pressures from 21st century society. The ongoing preservation of these sites, through consultation with Indigenous community groups, will be a focus for the research, along with the development of programs for assessment and monitoring. This will culminate in the development of a framework for a National Rock Art Conservation Strategy that adheres to the principles of the Burra Charter. The development of such a framework will enable future management to be undertaken with these guiding principles.
To meet these objectives, a number of research questions have been posed. These questions are broken into two categories – key research questions that are central to my research, and sub-questions that I believe need to be addressed in order to fully comprehend my results. The questions are as follows:
Key Research Questions
1.    What are the past and present pressures, from a 21st century perspective, on the ongoing preservation of rock art and what are the views of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia to the protection, conservation and/or management of these pressures?
2.    Why do there exist varying human desires to protect and preserve cultural heritage and what are the unique aspects which relate to rock art?
a.    Is it universally agreed that the preservation of rock art sites is essential? Why?
b.    Where does the preservation of Australian rock art sit in relation to international efforts (or non-efforts)? Why do any differences exist?
c.    What are the differing attitudes towards the conservation of rock art sites in Australia, including Indigenous perspectives on the practice of conservation and the future path it may take?
3.    What are the historical, present-day, and future roles of archaeology in the conservation of rock art sites internationally?
1.    What different methods are in place for the preservation of a rock art site? What has been missed?
2.    What are the driving forces behind conservation and management of sites?
3.    What the issues of preservation are at sites in Australia and internationally?
A number of sites will be used as case studies for this research including sites in Kakadu National Park (World Heritage Area), western Arnhem Land (permit system) and the Kimberley (cross-over country between three groups) have been selected for the research.
Mel is based in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and undertakes research with local Indigenous groups and regional Indigenous organisations. She lives on a remote Aboriginal community with her husband and three children.
For further information please contact Mel Marshall via email.

Updated: 10 July 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher