Exploring heritage sites at NT National Park

New archaeological research exploring the rich history of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites at Limmen National Park in the remote southwest Gulf of Carpentaria has been awarded over $800,000 in ARC Linkage Funding.

A research team led by Flinders University Associate Professor Liam Brady in the College of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, is embarking on a 5-year journey peeling back layers in the story of Limmen National Park’s past to provide new insights into its archaeological and cultural history.

Limmen National Park was established in 2012 and is located within Marra Country approximately 800 km South East of Darwin and is managed by the Parks & Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory in close collaboration with Marra Families.

This landscape features rugged terrain, extensive escarpment country, spectacular sandstone formations, deep gorges, floodplains, and extensive river systems.

When considering its scale and size, project lead Associate Professor Liam Brady says developing a cultural heritage management plan is hugely important to Marra and Parks & Wildlife and this new archaeology research will help inform the best path forward.

“Although remote, the National Park is experiencing a rapid growth in tourism with 4WD adventurers lured by the rugged landscape and thus represents a threat to Marra cultural heritage,” says Professor Brady.

“Equally important for Marra is the great sense of urgency and concern over the transmission of cultural knowledge associated with cultural places. Elders today are keen to have their knowledge about the sites targeted for exploration documented so it can be shared for future generations and use it to safeguard their cultural heritage sites.”

Associate Professor Liam Brady in the College of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences.

Professor Brady’s research team is made up of specialists from three other institutions: Monash University, James Cook University, University of Western Australia and the University Melbourne. Archaeologists will undertake excavations and rock art recording and dating, paleoenvironmental researchers will reconstruct what the Park’s landscape looked like in the past, anthropologists will help record Marra knowledge and stories, and Marra cultural researchers and rangers are co-directing the project.

The research is also being financially supported by three project partners: Parks & Wildlife, the McArthur River Mine Community Benefits Trust, and Mabunji Aboriginal Resource Indigenous Corporation.

“The rugged and remote nature of the landscape means we will be doing a lot of 4WDing, helicopter travel and boat travel; schoolchildren from the Learning on Country programs in the area will be visiting the project sites each year to learn from Elders and the researchers about the cultural and archaeological significance of the area.”

The research is also unique by combining contemporary Marra knowledge with archaeological and anthropological data to shape interpretations of Marra cultural history and to understand the meaning of the archaeological record for Marra people today.

By collaborating with Traditional Owners and the Park’s managers, the project also seeks to build employment pathways for younger generations to work in the nation’s National Park system.

Prior to receiving an invitation to begin this research journey from Marra, Associate Professor Brady says Limmen National Park was a virtually unexplored archaeological landscape.

Their pilot study involved undertaking the first-ever excavations in the Park, recording its spectacular rock art galleries, and the discovery of a unique rock art style. Their studies have shown the Park to be a very rich cultural landscape with an equally rich record of knowledge, objects and images that are still held by senior Marra men and women.

‘This new project was actually developed out of a recently completed ARC Discovery project, also in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria, but with the neighbouring Yanyuwa community that focused on rock art research.’

‘During our field trip, some Marra people heard about what we were doing and invited us to come and visit Limmen National Park to discuss how archaeology could be used to help address some of their concerns about the protection and management of their cultural heritage sites here.’

The project and its findings will benefit the Northern Territory tourism industry and contribute to national conversations around how best to manage Australia’s cultural heritage and history in remote areas.

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