Embodied knowledge and deep presence: Ethnography and rock art places in Yanyuwa country

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This paper explores the complex and challenging relationship between archaeology, rock art studies and ethnography. It examines how particular sites that may be deemed archaeological, because they contain rock art, are still part of the ethnographic present in regards to what continues to be known about them by Indigenous people. In this paper, we present a case study of rock art from Yanyuwa Country in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia. This is a context in which a Dreaming and kincentric ontology determines the presence and nature of imagery and shapes this imagery as an element of Country which carries its own agentic will. In this instance, the imagery is not rock art, but something altogether more richly configured through a relational ontology that stretches through time, past, present and future. The Yanyuwa example presses us to consider how our research of ‘rock art’ can be led through ethnographic understandings, rather than seeking ethnographic insights to support already constituted disciplinary understandings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-94
Number of pages11
JournalRock Art Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Archaeology
  • Australia
  • Ethnography
  • Ontology
  • Relational
  • Rock art


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