The Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga ) is on Australia's National Heritage List because of its significant rock art and stone features. This land- and seascape has over 1 million art works. While the scientific and cultural significance of this area is acknowledged, we still know little about the absolute ages of this landscape and the petroglyphs (engraved rock art) which have been produced since Aboriginal people first moved here 50,000 years ago. The ARC Linkage project is applying the best scientific knowledge to understand when the islands formed, model environmental and climate changes from landscape proxies and refocus attention on direct-dating the engravings and stone features of this unique cultural estate. The project is a collaboration between the Aboriginal community, Industry and academy.
Central to the production of the engravings has been the development of dark rock coatings of ‘desert varnish’. Importantly, this desert varnish is not ubiquitous and one goal this PhD will be to characterise the geology and geochemistry of the ‘art canvases’ to establish how desert varnish forms and what controls its preservation. What petrological or environmental characteristics made some lithologies more likely to develop desert varnish than others? How compositionally variable are these coatings and for how much longer are they likely to survive?
The successful candidate must have an excellent Honours degree and/or Masters in Geology and/or Geochemistry and an interest in archaeology. This PhD project will involve geological mapping at a range of Murujuga rock art complexes with a focus on the geochemical characterisation of geochemical variations in desert varnish to reveal any association within and between different lithologies. Other petrographic, geographic and environmental preservation factors affecting the persistence of desert varnish through time will also be explored. This candidate will work within a multidisciplinary team based at the University of Melbourne and collaborate closely with colleagues at the University of Western Australia.
The University of Melbourne is a comprehensive research-intensive university, currently ranked number one in Australia (Times higher Education, 2021). It has a world-class capacity and reputation for high quality geological and geochemical research. The University is a leader in the application of geochemical approaches to better understand the development of rock-art coatings and employs world-class facilities to tackle archaeological problems. You will join a lively, diverse and collegial network of post-graduate researchers in the School of Geography, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and will benefit from regular group mentoring and peer-connection through School and Faculty Early Career Researcher Networks and workshops. You will also be an important member of the broader Australian Research Council Linkage Project, working closely with colleagues from the University of Western Australia and Indigenous custodians of the Murujuga sites.