Referencing the Relational in ‘Saltwater’ Rock Art, Northern Australia

Author(s): Liam Brady; Sally May; Joakim Goldhahn

Year: 2018


Over the last decade, a major challenge for archaeologists has focused on understanding the relationship between people, things and the sea. As part of this effort archaeologists have increasingly focused their attention towards rock art as a symbolic means to referencing a maritime identity. At one level, identifying this connection can be relatively straightforward via marine-themed imagery (e.g. watercraft, marine animals) but what else can we draw upon to understand the nature and depth of this relationship? In this paper, we turn to the ethnographic record as a lens to explore how specific motifs and sites from two locations in northern Australia (western Arnhem Land’s Wellington Range, and the Sir Edward Pellew Islands in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria) are embedded in complex social and cultural networks for Australia’s ‘saltwater people’. At the core of our argument is the need to recognize how aspects of the ethnographic record such as song, kinship, cosmology and memory can play a pivotal role in accessing the meaning and symbolism of ‘saltwater’ rock art as well as how these images encode or communicate information about people’s social identities.

Cite this Record

Referencing the Relational in ‘Saltwater’ Rock Art, Northern Australia. Liam Brady, Sally May, Joakim Goldhahn. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444160)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: 111.797; min lat: -44.465 ; max long: 154.951; max lat: -9.796 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 20229