Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 161–205 | Cite as

‘Rock-art’, ‘Animism’ and Two-way Thinking: Towards a Complementary Epistemology in the Understanding of Material Culture and ‘Rock-art’ of Hunting and Gathering People

  • Martin PorrEmail author
  • Hannah Rachel Bell


In recent years, the concept of ‘animism’ has gained considerable popularity among archaeologists in exploring non-Western expressions of material culture. This development has also influenced recent academic approaches towards the study of ‘rock-art’ of people living as hunter and gatherers or in a hunting and gathering tradition. We argue here that attempts in this direction so far are generally compromised, because they fail to take Indigenous philosophies and intellectual contributions seriously. Any concern with Indigenous material expressions, including so-called rock-art, has to involve a critical re-assessment of academic discourse itself and a challenge to the primacy of Western scientific and literary, academic methodologies. With reference to the ‘rock-art’ and the world-view of the Ngarinyin (Kimberley, Northwest Australia), we present some preliminary thoughts for the development of an alternative interpretative framework, while offering a (much needed) legitimacy to another more balanced epistemology.


Rock-art Australia Animism Ontologies Phenomenology 



First and foremost we acknowledge the Ngarinyin, Worrora and Wanumbal knowledge-holders and keepers of the living Wanjina-Wungurr rock art tradition who have shared their knowledge and images with the world. Hannah Rachel Bell thanks her friends and teachers, senior lawmen Bungal Mowaljarlai OAM (dec), Laurie Gawanulli (dec), Paddy Wamma (dec), Laurie Utemorra (dec), Wilfred Goonack (dec), Ray Goonack (dec), Nyandat Tataya (dec), Willy Bunjuk (dec), Paddy Neowarra, Scotty Martin, Paul Chapman, Jimmy Maline and senior law women Daisy Utemorra (dec) Tjurkai (dec), Pansy Nulgit, Maisie Jordpa, Dorothy Spider, Lucy Ward, Biddy Dale, Janet Ubaguma, Joy Molumbun, Gilgie and Guddu, and all their children for welcoming her into their families and lives and informed her work over the past 40 years.

This paper has considerably profited from a UWA Institute of Advanced Studies workshop on ‘Gwion Gwion rock-art of the Kimberley: Past, present and future’, which was held at the University of Western Australia on October 14-15, 2010. Professor Alan Robson, Vice Chancellor, The University of Western Australia, the Institute of Advanced Studies at The University of Western Australia, the Department of Indigenous Affairs, Government of Western Australia, and Eureka Archaeological Research and Consulting financially supported the workshop. Sections of this paper were written in Derby during a research project conducted by M. Porr, which was funded by the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS project grant G2009/7440). We also would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ngarinyin Bush University & Co-cultural EducationBallaratAustralia
  2. 2.Archaeology/Centre for Rock-Art Studies, School of Social and Cultural StudiesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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