The Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga) is on Australia's National Heritage List because of its significant rock art and stone features. This land- and seascape has over 1 million art works. While the scientific and cultural significance of this area is acknowledged, we still know little about the absolute ages of this landscape and the petroglyphs (engraved rock art) which have been produced since Aboriginal people first moved here 50,000 years ago. The ARC Linkage project is applying the best scientific knowledge to understand when the islands formed, model environmental and climate changes from landscape proxies and refocus attention on direct-dating the engravings and stone features of this unique cultural estate. The project is a collaboration between the Aboriginal community, Industry and academy. Central to the production of the engravings has been the development of dark rock coatings of ‘desert varnish’. Importantly, this desert varnish is not ubiquitous and one goal this PhD will be to characterise the geology and geochemistry of the ‘art canvases’ to establish how desert varnish forms and what controls its preservation. What petrological or environmental characteristics made some lithologies more likely to develop desert varnish than others? How compositionally variable are these coatings and for how much longer are they likely to survive?
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