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Student Spotlight: Ana Paula Motta

Ana Paula Motta is a Forrest Research Foundation Scholar with the Centre for Rock Art Research and Management (CRAR+M) at the University of Western Australia. Her dissertation is part of the Kimberley Visions: Rock Art Provinces from Northern Australia ARC project, directed by Professor Peter Veth.

My PhD focuses on understanding human-animal relationships and the effects animal species had in the construction of social identity in Kimberley rock art.

Animals have always been part of our life, since the beginning of the human species more than five million years ago. Traces of the meaningful relationships that humans and animals have established can be found in the archaeological record and the paintings that people left behind. I study how Indigenous populations in the Kimberley, Australia, related to animals through rock art. For example, in one of the earliest rock art styles in the Kimberley, the Irregular Infill Animal Period, the art is mainly composed by animal depictions, painted with a high amount of anatomical details that allows me to determine their species. In this area, animals are part of a symbolic system that thinks of them as part of human lifeways and human identity. Here, animals also contribute to the determination of territories, clan affiliation, and seasonal painting practices.

As part of the Kimberley Visions project I was able to participate from three field campaigns with the purpose of recording archaeological sites across the Kimberley. My background in anthropology, archaeology and rock art allowed me to record multiple information to be used for my project.

Reflecting upon how humans related to animals in the past, through the study of rock art, and how these relationships changed through time is also relevant for understanding how we relate to animals in the present.

Our understanding of other species has been done from a Western point of view, often ignoring traditional knowledge, in which modern definitions of nature are applied to the past. We must learn from Indigenous encounters with animals as it is the only way to secure a balanced coexistence with the environment and secure the future of many species, ours included. My research re-evaluates what it means to be human and animal and explores how contemporary and past Indigenous Australians placed themselves in the world. Approaching this problem through archaeology will help bridge the gap between science and art, past and present.

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