Advancing knowledge of human cultural evolution

The Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) links 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.

The Unit’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. Ancient DNA studies, paleoanthropological, archaeological, anthropological and other research is also a key part of PERAHU’s research program.


Made entirely using 3D models, The Final Passage is an uninterrupted journey through the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave whose steady development approaches the experience of the first humans who spent time in the cave 36,000 years ago. An uncut sequence-shot filmed with a subjective camera allows us to discover in an immersive manner one of the greatest sites of human history. Lions, mammoths, rhinos, bears and half-human - half-animal figures come to life in this never-before-seen, hyper-realistic digital reproduction. Discovered in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave has proven to be extraordinary, enormous, and sumptuously beautiful. Today it is recognized as one of the oldest underground sanctuaries in the world.


“In the form of an introspective journey through the world of Rock Art, in the heart of the first art that ever existed, this exclusive online release of THE FINAL PASSAGE is a timely event, symbolic of the depth of roots common to all humanity, inherited from time immemorial. In the surroundings of the Chauvet Cave, humans had to face hardships and survive in a world they could not control, just as the corona virus is reminding us today.” --Jean-Michel Geneste, Archaeologist



Meet the first scale for rock art in the digital world. Designed by rock art researchers for rock art research.

Find out more

Conservation Perspectives

The newsletter of the Getty Conservation Institute


The PERAHU Indigenous Advisory Committee is an important reference group for our work.

Meet Our Advisors


Histories of Australian Rock Art Research

Gold Coast, 8-9 December 2019

This symposium aims to bring together people to reflect upon unique events, ideas and trajectories in the history of Australian rock art.

Past Event Programme


Explore our extensive lists of publications.

Community Connections

PERAHU members work closely with Australian Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Indigenous Southeast Asian and Chinese communities as well as academics across the region. We have particularly strong ties with communities in various parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and New South Wales. Here is what two of our close Aboriginal colleagues have to say about the importance of rock art:

Carol Chong, PERAHU

I am Carol Chong, a Wakaman woman from North Queensland. Wakaman traditional country stretches from the Chillagoe limestone bluffs west and south across the Tate River and takes in some southern parts of the Etheridge Shire.

Rock art is very important to the Wakaman because it tells the story of our people. Rock art marks our very sacred landscape, and the symbols contain our totems that connect us to our ancestors. Rock art is our record and our keeping place of our knowledge, lore and culture. Rock art is a powerful link between our country, our past and our people, and we want to protect and preserve it for future generations of Wakaman.

Cecil Namunidjbuk, PERAHU

I am Cecil Namunidjbuk and I come from a place called Amorran on the Northern Territory coast, south of Goulburn Island, Australia. My clan estate includes part of the nearby Wellington Range where there are hundreds of rock art sites. Our rock art sites are like history books to us that have stories to pass on to future generations. This is why it is important to protect these places.

All rock art sites have stories and sometimes songs. By playing the didjeridu, telling traditional stories and visiting rock art sites I help keep my cultural life and heritage strong for my people.

Protecting our nation’s heritage

With more than 100,000 rock art sites believed to be scattered across Australia and the possibility of even more unrecorded galleries, Professor Taçon knows that time is running out to safeguard many of these ancient survivors. You can help support this remarkable work.

Our people

Centre staff are international leaders in the area of rock art, history and cultural evolution

Current research projects

Paul Tacon world expedition tour

Rock art history conservation and Indigenous well-being

2016-2021 ARC FL160100123 (Taçon)  $2,553,00.

The contemporary significance of Australia’s rock art heritage and reasons why rock art is important for Indigenous identity and well-being but undervalued by others is a focal point of this project. New national strategies and knowledge about rock art will be produced to enhance Indigenous empowerment and well-being. Threats to Australian rock art and problems with its conservation will be addressed to ensure this rich and ancient element of national heritage is better protected for future generations. Innovative ways to manage and promote the rock art of Australia will be developed in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, especially in northern Australia, a region experiencing unprecedented development that threatens rock art landscapes.

Ship in Wellington range photographed by Paul Tacon

History places: Wellington Range rock art in global context

2016-2018 ARC DP160101832 $490,100.

The project aims to investigate one of Australia’s most extraordinary bodies of rock art, spread across Arnhem Land’s Wellington Range, in order to answer important archaeological research questions, provide Traditional Owners with a comprehensive digital record of their rock art heritage and develop a long term management plan. Field research will include survey, 2-D and 3-D rock art recording, limited excavation and sampling for dating. The project is designed to situate Wellington Range rock art in regional and global contexts in order to better understand long-term north Australian Aboriginal experience and its expression in relation to other hunter-gatherer groups and to gain new insight into human cultural and cognitive development.

Collaborators: Dr S. K. May (ANU), Dr L. Brady (Monash), Dr D. Wright (ANU), Prof J. Goldhahn (Linnaeus U., Sweden), Prof  I. Domingo Sanz (U. Barcelona, Spain).

Sulawesi Indonesia

The unknown 'Ice Age' artists of Borneo

FT170100025 (Aubert), Australian Research Council Future Fellowship

$1,011,616 plus $1,054,289 from administering organisation.

Who were the first artists? When and why did it become second nature for humans not simply to exist within the natural world, but to encode it with images of things both real and imagined? The discovery of cave paintings in Sulawesi and more recently in Borneo dating to at least 40,000 years ago has altered our understanding of the origins and spread of the first painting traditions. This project will build upon these breakthrough discoveries by constructing the first detailed portrait of the cultural and symbolic worlds of the unknown artists of Pleistocene Borneo. By doing so, it will further our knowledge about the process of the emergence of figurative art, one of the most fundamental cultural developments in the evolution of humankind.

Collaborative research

At Griffith University PERAHU works closely with other areas of the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, the Ancient DNA Sequencing Laboratory (Science, Environment, Engineering and Environment) and other sections of the university.

In Australia, PERAHU collaborates closely with Indigenous Australians wherever research is undertaken (over 20 communities). It also conducts collaborative research with archaeologists, anthropologists, dating experts, geomorphologists and many other scientists at Monash University, The Australian National University, The University of New England, The University of New South Wales, The University of Western Australia and The University of Queensland on a range of research projects and to better promote and protect rock art for future generations.

Across the globe PERAHU collaborates closely with individuals and institutions in Canada, China, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and throughout South East Asia. PERAHU director Prof Taçon is a member of the World Rock Art Alliance founded in 2017 at a Getty Conservation Institute funded international colloquium in Namibia. He also works closely with Getty staff on projects and publications.


Rock art is a cultural gift from our ancestors.
—Kofi Annan

Between 2005 and 2011 the Getty Conservation Institute organized a series of rock art management courses and workshops as part of the Southern African Rock Art
Project (SARAP) in collaboration with various southern African organizations. From 2012–2014 the project was extended to include an exchange program between rock art specialists, managers, and custodian communities from southern Africa and Australia. In 2014, a Forum was held in Kakadu National Park between African and Australian rock art colleagues as a culmination of the learning from the SARAP and the African–Australian Exchanges.

This document is the result of the deliberations from this work, including strong input from traditional owners of rock art sites and the participation of the Trust for African Rock Art. All of the experience of the work in Africa and Australia and the knowledge of those who participated in activities widely across both continents is reflected in this document.

While the document in its present form focuses on experience of examples from Africa and Australia, it sets out a vision for the future conservation of rock art which will be relevant to rock art conservation in many regions of the world. The issues it identifies and the foundation principles and actions it proposes are based on
internationally recognized and well-founded conservation management principles. It is hoped this document will be widely disseminated, used, critiqued and over time be adapted and improved.

Download - Rock Art: A Cultural Treasure at Risk

Latest news

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September30, 2020

Arnhem Land Maliwawa rock art opens window to past

Stunning Arnhem Land rock art images have been described by researchers in Australian Archaeology.

August 04, 2020

Funding win for archaeology student in new B Arts Honours program

A Griffith archaeological science student, testing new ways to identify where items from collections have come from, has been awarded funding to continue her exciting research.

January 25, 2018

ARCHE helps rewrite timing for first humans out of Africa

Scientists from Griffith University have played a crucial role in helping an international team of archaeologists rewrite the timeline of human evolution and the migration of modern humans out of Africa. It had been widely accepted that Homo sapiens had moved out of Africa between 90,000 and 120,000...

July 21, 2017

Ochres reveal colouring of colonisation   

A study published today in the journal Nature, reports ground ochres among the earliest evidence for human occupation of Australia, 65,000 years ago.

June 13, 2017

Award caps stellar year for rock art expert

Griffith University rock art expert Professor Paul Taçon has been announced the winner of the Research Leadership Award in the 2016 Vice Chancellor’s Research Excellence Awards. For more than 36 years, the director of Griffith’s Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit and Chair in Rock Art Resea...

December 12, 2016

Rock art expert honoured with national award

Griffith University’s rock art expert Professor Paul Taçon has capped a remarkable year being honoured with the Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology - the top archaeology award in Australia. Earlier this year he was awarded an Australian Research Council Laureate ...

Contact details

(07) 5552 9074
Location, delivery and postal address
Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit
Griffith University, Gold Coast campus
Parklands Drive
Southport QLD 4222