Investigating the role and significance of heritage and protecting it for the future

Cultural heritage, including rock art, ancient architecture, written heritage, music, material culture and intangible cultural practices, is important for contemporary well-being for diverse groups of people. For instance, the protection of heritage is central to the health of Aboriginal Australians and in the UK, visiting heritage sites has proven to be more beneficial to well-being than attending sporting events.

However, heritage is threatened globally by development and cultural intolerance with the destruction of heritage used to disempower people. Contemporary heritage institutions also face issues of sustainability due to a dearth of resources in terms of human capital and external support.

Theme leaders: Professor Paul Taçon and Professor Sarah Baker

Our research

This research theme draws together academics working in diverse areas to develop new research projects on the role and significance of heritage in the contemporary world, as well as new ways to protect and present it for future generations.

Potential projects in this theme include an interrogation of the connections between heritage and well-being in varied settings such as Indigenous heritage sites and community institutions involved in preserving popular culture; and connections between heritage, place and memory in increasing understandings of the construction of identity at local, national and international levels. Research in this theme has a strong focus on Indigenous rock art and preserving cultural heritage. Strengths lie in the community-led nature of the projects, working and engaging directly with communities throughout each project stage. This research informs cultural policy development with a focus on both tangible and intangible heritage.


The Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) plays a vital role in this research stream, linking Griffith staff and students to a highly collaborative international network of researchers and Indigenous peoples undertaking innovative visual, symbolic, landscape and cultural evolution research across Australasia. PERAHU’s vision is to advance global knowledge about human cultural evolution during the past 50,000 years and to highlight the importance of rock pictures as datasets that provide unique insights into the past, especially since the end of Pleistocene.

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Aboriginal Rock Art and Cultural Heritage Management in the Sandstone Country of Southeast Cape York Peninsula

The Laura Sandstone Basin of Cape York Peninsula hosts one of the richest bodies of rock art in Australia and the world, documenting the life-ways of generations of Aboriginal Australians from their original settlement, through major environmental changes, to European invasion. This vast area, much of which is now jointly managed as National Parks by Traditional Owners, remains virtually unexplored archaeologically. With a team of ten researchers from six universities working alongside six Industry Partners, this project will record the unique rock art and archaeology of Cape York Peninsula. This will provide a framework for sustainable management of this unique cultural heritage so it endures for future generations. Findings from the project may have profound implications for our understandings of the cultural behaviour and dispersal of the earliest modern humans to colonise Australia.

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ARC Laureate Fellowship recipient

Professor Paul Taçon, Griffith’s chair of Rock Art Research, and director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit, was awarded a $2.5 million 2016 Australian Laureate Fellowship by the Australian Research Council for the project ‘Australian Rock Art History, Conservation and Indigenous Well-being’.

ARC projects

May, S.K., Tacon, P., Brady, L., Wesley, D., Rademaker, L., Jalandoni, A., Taylor, L., Goldhahn, J. 'Art at a crossroads: Aboriginal responses to contact in Northern Australia' ARC-SR200200062 (2021-2023) (Value $273,828)

Baker, S., Cantillon, Z. 'Reimagining Norfolk Island’s Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area' ARC-SR200200711 (2021-2023) (Value $229,108)

Wallis, LA., Burke, H., Griffiths, B., Hadnutt, N., Wall, V. ‘Fugitive Traces: Reconstructing Yulluna experiences of the frontier’ ARC- SRI200200157 (2021-2023) (Value $263,414)

Wallis, LA., Burke, H., Huntley, J., Osborn, J., Barker, B., Aubert, M., Jones, T., Spooner, N., Cole, N. ‘Aboriginal rock art and cultural heritage management in Cape York Peninsula’ ARC-LP190100194 (2020-2025)(Value $1,342,000)

Taçon, P., May, S., Brady, L., Wright, D., Goldhahn, J., Sanz, ID. ‘ History Places: Wellington Range rock art in a global context’. ARC-DP160101832 (2016 – 2018). Total funding amount $490,100.

Baker, S. ‘Do-it-yourself popular music archives: an international comparative study of volunteer-run institutions that preserve popular music’s material culture.’ ARC-DP130100317 (2013-2015). Total amount funding $272,000 (project near completion).

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Get in touch with the Centre for Social and Cultural Research