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Student Spotlight: Patrick Morrison

Patrick Morrison is midway through his honours project at UWA. He is writing on a stone artefact scatter, found in the intertidal zone of Dolphin Island in Murujuga (the Dampier Archipelago). This site possibly represents evidence for a submerged landscape, inundated by sea-level rise in the Early Holocene and we suspect that this is one of many similar sites in the Archipelago.

I started formal archaeological training in 2016, after an interesting broadening unit added an Archaeology major to my Neuroscience degree. In that unit, we were introduced to the idea that a third of the Australian continent was inundated by rising seas since the Last Glacial Maximum (around 22 thousand years ago). The implication is profound as some of the most significant archaeological landscapes in Australia remain almost completely unexplored. This includes everything from the first landing sites, the coasts where people lived for the first 40,000 years of occupation, and the Country that remains an important part of many Aboriginal cultures today. When my supervisor Jo McDonald offered me the opportunity to study a potential submerged site, I was delighted.

My involvement with underwater archaeology began briefly before my first archaeology unit. Weekends of scuba diving and an interest in digital technologies came together, and lead to me to join the Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia (MAAWA), who were wrapping up an ambitious project using of 3D photogrammetry to record shipwrecks around Perth. I am now the Secretary of MAAWA, where we are running a project on the maritime cultural landscapes in the Swan and Canning Rivers, including everything from shipwrecks, to jetties, and even dumped cars.

I was lucky enough to start working on Murjuga in 2017 when I took part in a UWA Rio Tinto rock art field school. More than a million Aboriginal rock engravings reveal a story of human adaptation to sea level rise over many millennia. It is one of the densest rock art provinces in the world, so once we had our eyes in after a few days of recording, we could all see art almost everywhere we looked.

Over this last summer, I worked with Jo and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre as an intern, visualising cultural features on Rosemary Island, one of the larger outer islands of the Archipelago. This gave me a chance to develop my skills in using airbourne LiDAR and drone datasets for archaeology.

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