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.
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:
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.
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.
Centre staff are international leaders in the area of rock art, history and cultural evolution
Current research projects
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.
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).
The oldest rock art in Asia and the early human occupation of island Southeast Asia
2014-16 ARC DE140100254 (Aubert), Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA),
Recent research revealed that humans were producing rock paintings on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi by at least 39 thousand years ago (and possibly up to 46 thousand years ago). The rock art, therefore, is essentially contemporaneous with the earliest cave art in Europe and may be the world’s oldest given the arrival of Homo sapiens in Australia at least 50 thousand years ago. This project will further investigate the early rock art of Sulawesi as well as other key Indonesian islands located along likely migration routes from Borneo to New Guinea. The results will have major implications for our understanding of the cultural behaviour and dispersal of the earliest modern humans to colonise Southeast Asia and Australia.
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: A CULTURAL TREASURE AT RISK
Rock art is a cultural gift from our ancestors.
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.
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 ...
May 06, 2016
ARC Laureate Fellowship honours rock art expert
Professor Paul Tacon has been awarded an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship.
July 22, 2015
Researchers record Chinese rock art
Professor Paul Tacon and Dr Maxime Aubert travelled to China in June to record little-known rock art.
Professor Paul Taçon
Director, Place, Evolution, and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU)
Associate Professor Maxime Aubert
Quaternary geochronology, U-series dating, rock art.
Dr Sally K. May
Rock art, Australian archaeology, contact histories, museum studies and cultural heritage.
Dr Jillian Huntley
Ochre, rock art conservation, physicochemical analysis, Australasian archaeology.
Dr Courtney Nimura
European prehistory, rock art and maritime archaeology.
Ms Fiona McKeague
Operations and logistics, Australian rock art, community engagement
Research interests centre on the relationship between culture, communication, community and country.
Post Doctoral Fellow with Max Auberts Future Fellowship Project
- (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