Archaeology News

Monitoring Rock Art Decay

Published November 10, 2022

Research conducted by Ben Smith, John L. Black, Kenneth J. Mulvaney & Stéphane Hœrlé has highlighted the impacts of decades of industrialization on one of the worlds most significant rock art sites, Murujuga located in Western Australia’s north-west.

The recently published study analyses archival images of 26 petroglyphs taken in the years prior to, or early in the industrialisation of the area (1960’s – early 1980’s) and compares them to recent images (2000 – 2021) as a means of assessing the effects of the industrial works on the degradation of the petroglyphs.

The comparative analysis utilised archival and private collections of the petroglyphs and aimed to observe the changes in the rock faces over time looking specifically for evidence of degradation, rock flaking, erosion, spalling and scratching.

Murujuga has been a hub for massive industries such as Iron Ore, sea-salt evaporation, natural gas processing, ammonia fertiliser plants and ammonium nitrate facilities, to name a few. This has been an area of consistent industrial development since the 1960’s and as a result has been a source of environmental condemnation and has contributed to the destruction of cultural features and petroglyphs within the area.

As a result of the study, 50% of the petroglyphs analyzed by Smith and his collages showed signs of degradation and damage, two of which were substantial in nature. The majority of these changes were attributed to the high level of industrial activity in the area.

It strongly advocated within Smiths study that a “reduction in industrial emissions is considered essential if damage to the rock art is to be limited” (Smith et al, 2022 p.1), and that the preservation of this highly significant cultural heritage site is dependent on these changes.

Read Smiths full article here:

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