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Dating Murujuga's Rock Art: First Meeting and Field Trip

Our Dating Project (LP190100724) has finally started! The project officially got under way with our first meeting with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation’s Circle of Elders. Peter Jeffries (PI and MAC CEO) beamed in from Torres Strait to welcome the team. We also had a Cultural Induction from MLSU Rangers Corey Adams and Dale Sambo.

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation Circle of Elders. Photo: MAC

The multidisciplinary team, from three Australian universities and Partner Organisations RioTinto and Woodside, will use innovative science to better understand a number of environmental ‘proxies’ around the Archipelago. As well as having a whole range of different science backgrounds, this research team is very multicultural and includes researchers born in the UK, Austria, Russia, Iraq, Poland, South Africa, the USA – as well as Australia!

Our fieldwork will start later in the year, but we took the opportunity to introduce the research team to Murujuga. While several of us were stopped by a Melbourne COVID-lockdown or Uni committee duty, 12 members of the research team gathered at Dampier last week. For many of the team, it was their first visit to this amazing country!

The project’s overall goals relate to understanding the age of Murujuga’s rock art production. For instance, desert varnish coats some of the oldest art. Dr Aleksey Sadekov (Murujuga Research Fellow, UWA) is a Uranium Series Specialist who will be looking at whether there is Uranium and Thorium in the desert varnish, on the various different geologies across the Archipelago.

We will also be studying the Archipelago's water holes to better understand groundwater and rainwater sources – and to find out when these water holes were the most reliable in the past. The deep calcium carbonate drapes in major rock art complexes (being studied by Dr Caroline Mather, Murujuga Research Fellow, UWA) will be used to find out how old these waterholes are, and changing environmental conditions through time.

With all the recent rain, many of the waterholes were full! Several of the team have already started calculating how long they think this water might last, and samples were taken to check the oxygen isotopes.

Our other Murujuga Researcher, Dr Luke Gliganic (at Uni of Wollongong) will be looking at luminescence dating of rock surfaces to see how old these are: next month's blog will be on his special subject!

The sampling began with looking at the variability in the natural geology, to undertake the experimental aspects of our work in material without any cultural value. Once the experimentation has finished – we will again talk to the Circle of Elders about the next phase of work.

We look forward to working with Murujuga ngarda ngarli on this project: Ngayantharri gumawarni ngurranga!

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