An international research team led by The University of Western Australia is about to unlock an unprecedented 45,000-year history from the unique archaeological time capsule that is Barrow Island, one of the largest islands lying off Australia's north-west coast.
Rising sea levels flooded mainland access to the island about 7000 years ago. The island appears to have been uninhabited until American whalers and pearlers arrived in the early to mid-1800s.
The biggest Australian Research Council Discovery grant awarded this year will enable Professor Peter Veth of UWA's Centre for Rock Art Research and Management (CRARM) to lead the $1,175,000 project over the next three years.
"As the most arid island continent in the world to have been colonised by humans and now faced with never-before-seen states of climate change and threats to cultural and natural heritage, it seems absolutely timely that the Barrow Island Archaeology Project can be realised," Professor Veth said.
The Project will examine ‘deep-time' maritime societies in northern Australia, modelled to date back to earlier than 45,000 years ago. Important climate and ecological records will be reconstructed from the contents of caves. The more recent labour history of Indigenous people and pearling will also be profiled.
"This project has the capacity to provide entirely new understandings of human behavioural ecology, island biogeography, climate change and historic-era exploitation of this maritime arid zone, which will be unquestionably of national and international significance and impact," Professor Veth said.
Professor Veth's research will be conducted alongside an ARC Linkage Project on the in situ preservation of colonial-era wrecks and long-term work on the rock art and archaeology of the Western Desert and Pilbara regions.
Christine Casey, Associate Director of UWA's Research Grants and Finance, said the ARC assessed the project as one of the best in Australia. Professor Veth was also awarded the Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award and has worked previously on the archaeology of the nearby Montebello Islands, Dampier Archipelago and the remote Canning Stock Route.
Professor Peter Veth (Centre for Rock Art Research and Management) (+61 8) 6488 1807
Christine Casey (Associate Director, Research Grants and Finance) (+61 8) 6488 1776
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783