Nalangkulurru, the Spirit Beings, and the Black-Nosed Python: Ontological Self-Determination and Yanyuwa Law in Northern Australia's Gulf Country

Amanda Kearney, John Bradley, Liam M. Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


We write from an ontological premise that there are other ways to know and understand the “archaeological record” and “rock art” that are devoid of Western ontology, and there have been for many millennia. In this article, we consider one specific Indigenous place and its associated visual elements, what might be commonly referred to as “rock art.” This place, Nalangkalurru, is replete with meaning, grounded in a well-founded and understood logic and reason. Nalangkalurru belongs to the Yanyuwa people of the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria region, northern Australia. By adopting methodological openness, we take a journey of steadied nondistraction oriented towards the Yanyuwa ontology that is in place. When viewing the visual elements of Nalangkalurru, which include Ancestral Beings that are visually present on the cave's large rock surface, Yanyuwa have resolutely declared that this “is not a painting.” We explore what this comment means and expand the discussion to consider the nature of rock art research, when “rock art” is not “rock art.” These insights inspire a reflective discussion on the ways Yanyuwa, and Indigenous ontologies more broadly, unsettle and aid the ontological turn. [ontology, rock art, colonialism, Indigenous, Australia].

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

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