Thesis abstract ‘Rethinking Heritage: Landscape Iconoclasm in the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia’

03rd May 2014

José Antonio González Zarandona

PhD, Art History Program, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, December 2013

Considered by some archaeologists to be the largest rock art site in the world, the Dampier Archipelago (located in Western Australia [WA]) contains up to one million prehistoric petroglyphs. Since the 1960s a number of companies have established themselves in what is known as the Burrup Peninsula, the largest island in the archipelago. Not surprisingly, this action has brought the destruction of Aboriginal petroglyphs, thought to date back to 25,000 years BP. It is unknown how many have been destroyed and we are still missing important information about the region and the Indigenous people who made them. Many studies have been undertaken on the archipelago. While some touch upon the destruction, their aims are essentially different. This thesis aims to fill this gap and considers the destruction of the art as the focus of a rock art analysis.

This thesis seeks to answer the following question: what are the causes that led to the destruction of the largest open archaeological site in the world? This analysis of the destruction is framed by theories from the field of colonialism, post-colonial, visual and heritage studies. The aim is to explain the destruction and neglect of petroglyphs in the Dampier Archipelago as a natural response of European colonisers in the nineteenth century towards prehistoric art, and later on, by post-colonial attitudes that heavily influenced the mismanagement of this intangible and tangible cultural heritage. By writing a critical reception of the Murujuga’s petroglyphs, this thesis also critically analyses the concept of heritage as it is practiced in WA. Furthermore, by applying image theory and ethnographic methods, this research considers the destruction of Murujuga as a landscape iconoclasm and a hericlash, based on the concept of iconoclash by Bruno Latour and the anthropological theory of the image by art historian, Hans Belting. The theory of landscape iconoclasm opens the way for a richer understanding of iconoclasm and heritage as they are applied in post-colonial societies.

June 2014
Type: Thesis abstract

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