Contemporary Indigenous relationships to archaeological features: Agency, affect, and the social significance of rock art

Liam Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


One of the major challenges facing archaeologists and cultural heritage/resource managers is how to better approach and understand concepts of significance and value of archaeological features (e.g. stone tools, rock art sites, pottery, stone arrangements, shell middens) in contemporary Indigenous settings. In this article, I focus on exploring contemporary Indigenous engagement and interaction with one specific type of archaeological feature—rock art—to develop a better understanding of how significance and value are attributed to sites and motifs. Through the lens of affectual, relational, and cultural understandings of rock art in northern Australia and the American Southwest I examine the complex nature of encounters and responses (e.g. verbal and gestural) to sites and motifs to illustrate how concerns with significance go beyond the archaeological realm. Using Gell's (1992 The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology. In Anthropology, Art, and Aesthetics, edited by Jeremy Coote and Anthony Shelton, pp. 40–67. Clarendon Press, Oxford) ideas of agency and affect as a starting point, and then unpacking the responses that are elicited from visiting or viewing rock art, I focus on investigating the structure of the relationship between people and the contemporary social significance of archaeological features. A key outcome from this research is the realization that contemporary engagement with rock art is diverse and can be shaped by a variety of factors including ontological and epistemological understandings, emotional experiences (e.g. fear), social memory, and the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-24
Number of pages22
JournalHeritage and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • affect
  • agency
  • American Southwest
  • Australia
  • emotion
  • relatedness
  • rock art
  • social significance

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