The Dampier Archipelago, located about 1550 kilometres north of Perth, is home to one of the most exciting collections of rock art in Australia.
It is possible to visit parts of the Dampier Archipelago, including some of the rock art in the Burrup Peninsula.
The Dampier Archipelago was included in the National Heritage List on 3 July 2007.
On the magnificent Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia, where the striking red earth of the Burrup Peninsula meets the blue Indian Ocean, rock engravings thought to number in the millions and other significant sites are helping us learn more about our Indigenous heritage.
Made up of islands, reefs, shoals, channels and straits, and covering a land area of around 400 square kilometers, the Burrup Peninsula is 27 kilometres long and four kilometres wide. Many important native plants, animals and habitats are found in the area.
The Archipelago was formed 6-8000 years ago when rising sea levels flooded what were once coastal plains. The underlying rocks are amongst the oldest on earth, formed in the Archaean period more than 2400 million years ago.
This is a sacred place, home to Indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years. Ngarda-Ngarlie people say ancestral beings created the land during the Dreamtime, and the spirits of Ngkurr, Bardi and Gardi continue to live in the area. They have left their mark in features like the Marntawarrura, or 'black hills,' said to be stained from the blood of the creative beings.
Australia's greatest collection of petroglyphs
This place of beauty is also home to one of the most exciting collections of rock art in Australia. The richness and diversity of this art is remarkable, with sites ranging from small scatters to valleys with literally thousands of engravings.
Sites types include quarries, middens, fish traps, rock shelters, ceremonial sites, artefact scatters, grinding patches, stone arrangements and engravings. Engravings are the most numerous type of site, with images potentially numbering in the millions. Large concentrations are found on inland plateaus, steep valley inclines bordering waterways and on rock platforms next to the ocean. Created by pecking, pounding, rubbing and scratching, the engravings provide a fascinating insight into the past.
According to the Ngarda-Ngarli people the engravings have a variety of purposes. Some depict ancestral beings or spirit figures, while others relate to sacred ceremonies and songs. But many are representations of the everyday life or events of the traditional ancestors.
Engravings show humans (single people, pairs and groups); human activities like hunting and climbing; and animals such as fish, crab, turtles, sharks, lizards, goannas, snakes and kangaroos. Some images show animals no longer found in the area - like emus - and others that are extinct, like the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. Some images are so finely detailed animals can be identified right down to species level.
There is also a high density of stone sites in the area, including standing stones, complex stone arrangements, fish traps, stone pits, hunting hides and stone cairns. Some of the standing stones are thought to have been built to mark important resources, such as waterholes, soaks and camping areas. Others are thalu sites, where Aboriginal people may have held ceremonies to increase natural species or phenomenon, such as rain.
The rock art of the Dampier Archipelago illustrates the evolution of the societies, cultures and environment over time.
The area contains a number of images found in places across the Pilbara, which shows connections over vast distances. Some of the Burrup Peninsula engravings, for example, are similar to those found in the Upper Yule, Port Hedland, Depuch Island, Calvert Ranges and Woodstock-Adydos. The deeply weathered 'archaic faces' of some engravings yield fascinating insights into long history of connections between the coast and the Western Desert.
The art also shows creativity that is unusual in Australian rock engravings. The finely detailed animal imagery, as well as the diverse and dynamic human figures is outstanding.
Pre-history meets the industrial age
The Dampier Archipelago is home to the most ancient works created by man, as well as a multi-billion dollar resource industry.
The Archipelago is located near significant reserves of natural gas, petroleum and iron ore resources. Industries have already invested in excess of $35 billion in developments, while trade to and from the Dampier Port reached 88.9 million tonnes for 2003-04, making Dampier the second largest tonnage port in the country. The area has also created thousands of jobs.
A balance between heritage management and economic prosperity is being achieved through a collaborative partnership involving Indigenous groups, industry, governments and the community. Careful, long-term management of the Dampier Archipelago and Burrup Peninsula will see both our heritage and economy protected into the future, to the advantage of all Australians.