Investigating the Anthropic Construction of Rock Art Sites Through Archaeomorphology: the Case of Borologa, Kimberley, Australia


Archaeologists usually see, and understand, rock shelters as taphonomically active, but pre-existing, physical structures onto which people undertake a variety of actions including rock art. Our aim in this paper is not only to document the changes undergone by rock shelters but also to identify traces of anthropic actions that have intentionally led to these changes. Recent research in northern Australia provides empirical evidence that for thousands of years, Aboriginal peoples altered the physical shape of rock shelters by removing masses of rock to create alcoves, restructure internal spaces and create stone-worked furniture. Through archaeomorphological research, this paper presents evidence from Borologa in Australia’s Kimberley region, where hard quartzite monoliths were shaped and engaged as architectural designs by Aboriginal people prior to painting many surfaces, making us rethink what have traditionally been distinguished as natural versus cultural dimensions of archaeological landscapes and rock art sites.

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    Squares C5-C6-D5-D6-DV-DVI-D7 were excavated by Bruno David; squares E4, F5 and G5 were excavated by Peter Veth and Sven Ouzman, as part of the Australian Research Council’s Kimberley Visions Linkage project.


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We thank Augustine Unghango, Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation members and Kwini Traditional Owners for the permission and partnership to work on their lands. This paper was carried out as part of the Australian Research Council’s “Kimberley Visions: Rock Art Style Provinces in Northern Australia” project (LP150100490). We thank Gael Cazes, Andy Gleadow, Pauline Heaney, Cecilia Myers, Maria Myers, Susan Bradley and the staff at Theda and Doongan Stations; Kimberley Foundation Australia, Dunkeld Pastoral Pty Ltd.; and the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. Thanks to EDYTEM and the Université Savoie Mont Blanc, the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre at Monash University and Archaeology at the University of Western Australia. Thank you also to the Borologa excavation and rock art recording teams: Isaac Barney, Frank Boulden, Leigh Douglas, Adrian French, Paul Hartley, Brigid Hill, Lucas Karadada, Madeleine Kelly, Lorraine Lee, Robin Maher, William Maraltidj, Michael Morlumbin, Ken Mulvaney, Nick Sundblom, Patrick Tataya, Gareth Unghango, Jeremy Unghango, Scott Unghango, Ian Waina, Rowan Waina and Uriah Waina. This work was conducted under a research agreement with the Kimberley Land Council and Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation. The Western Australian Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (formerly Aboriginal Affairs) provided a s16 permit.

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Correspondence to Jean-Jacques Delannoy or Bruno David.

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Appendix 1

Table 2 Basic petrographic description of Borologa 1’s rock strata

Appendix 2. Specifications for Borologa’s 3D laser modelling

The Borologa 3D model was created by short-range Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) of an area covering 5000 m2. One hundred and seventy-four scan scenes and c. 700 million points were recorded in the field. The 3D mapping was conducted to investigate research questions requiring a range of spatial scales and thus varied in resolution and mapping accuracy across the landscape (higher-resolution mapping was undertaken near the rock shelters; coarser-grainer mapping took place near the cliffline). Model mean values are based on 20 random measurements per item. The detailed 3D mapping workflow can be found in Genuite (2019).

  Ground surfaces and external environment Borologa 1 rock shelter and nearby blocks Squares C5–C6–D5–D6–DV–DVI excavation pit
A: Survey method Short-range TLS + sphere registration Short-range TLS + sphere registration TLS-constrained photogrammetry
B: Point cloud accuracy 1 cm 1 mm 1 mm
C: Point cloud density 2 cm 6 mm 2 mm
D: Mesh accuracy 2 cm 3 mm  
E: Delaunay 3D triangle mean size 8 cm 1.2 cm  
F: Mapping tool Faro Focus 3D 360 (2012) Faro Focus 3D 360 (2012) NIKON D 800 camera + 50 mm

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Delannoy, JJ., David, B., Genuite, K. et al. Investigating the Anthropic Construction of Rock Art Sites Through Archaeomorphology: the Case of Borologa, Kimberley, Australia. J Archaeol Method Theory 27, 631–669 (2020).

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  • Archaeomorphology
  • Kimberley
  • Landscape architecture
  • Rock art
  • 3D modelling