(Pattersons Valley)
Alex Leach 2011

The Dampier Archipelago consists of a number of islands in the North West of Western Australia.


Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

This area is covered with many archaeological sites of Aboriginal significance containing well over1,000,000 examples of engraved Rock Art.
(Caroline Bird and Sylvia J. Hallam 2006)

In Archaeological terms these sites have been studied in isolation (P. Vinnicombe 2002.) with little attempt to examine them as a whole. This has resulted in a lack of resolve to commit to an overall survey of this material. (P. Vinnicombe 2002.)

In order to understand the importance of the area in relation to the archaeological material it contains it is necessary to carry out a proper survey for the purpose of a national heritage inventory. (The Archipelago is currently a national heritage site)

Dampier Archipelago

This paper endeavours to demonstrate a physical connection between two very important sites on the Burrup Peninsular (Murujuga) namely:

a) Climbing Men Valley

b) Deep Gorge (Patterson's Valley)

An attempt will also be made to explain the relevance and connection to these two sites of artificial terraces that have puzzled investigators up till now, with reference to types of tools found in these locations.

There are a considerable number of Rock terraces found over the southern part of the Peninsular, with a concentration close to the Climbing Men Valley. These appear as long lines of piled rocks ending in a circular formation.

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

These have been investigated by geologists who confirm they are artificial.

There is no aboriginal tradition that relates to these constructions.

This paper will demonstrate that these may have been ceremonial constructions, possibly for the purpose of welcoming outside groups who occasionally accessed the area for ceremonial purposes. The circular area at one end of every terrace can be compared with more recent versions. See below.

Dampier Archipelago

The importance of the Dampier Archipelago cannot be over-estimated. It would appear that the reason there is so much rock art is because of the area's continual importance for many small aboriginal groups over a great length of time. These estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000 years ago (J McDonald 2009), which would place the oldest examples at before the last ice age; thus indicating these engravings are the oldest human depictions of faces and animals in the world.

Accurate dating at present is difficult as the use of carbon 14 dating requires the availability of carbon in the form of charcoal or bones in stratified deposits, which have yet to be investigated. Isotope dating only starts to become accurate at 50,000 years ago. (W.J. Rink 2001). However a new form of dating being researched at Australian National University (ANU), ( holds promise, with the use of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry. This may for the first time accurately date the engravings of the Rock's surface.

Age determination is an important aspect of gaining an understanding of the Rock Art in its proper context.

The Dampier Archipelago contains a greater density of Rock Art than any other area of human endeavour in the world (Caroline Bird and Sylvia J. Hallam 2006).

For the purposes of this paper I will divide the research into three sections:-

A) Connection between Climbing Men Valley &Deep Gorge

B) Terraces in the vicinity of Climbing Men Valley.

C) Tools


For many years a particular piece of Rock Art in Deep Valley has posed questions:

i) Why is this 2 ton rock with Climbing Men engraving placed out of context with Climbing Men Valley ?

ii) What is the connection between Deep Valley &Climbing Men Valley ?

Dampier Archipelago

This 2 ton engraving of "Climbing Men" has been deliberately placed in Deep Valley, apparently out of context with engravings of a similar nature found in Climbing Man Valley. As far as is currently known there is no other place on the Burrup Peninsular outside Climbing Men Valley where an image like this is displayed.

Main Display Climbing Men Valley

Dampier Archipelago

Climbing Men images Climbing Men ValleyBLANK Climbing Men image Deep Gorge

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

Observations at Deep Valley made in July 2008 suggest that

a) The 2 ton block was wedged and placed over the top of an old engraving that is upside down. (photo below)

Dampier Archipelago

b) The Climbing Men engraving appears to be much older than the upside down image.

Dampier Archipelago

c) The top of the 2 ton block is pointed and when viewed in the direction of Climbing Men Valley points directly to that location.

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

It is the relationship of this isolated representation of Climbing Men to the Climbing men valley itself that needs to be understood.

As the engraving is apparently much older than the surrounding Rock Art why has it been placed over a much younger piece, which itself is apparently older than another later engraving above it?, see above. The older engraving is obviously upside down, indicating it had fallen from a higher location sometime in the distant past, probably due to earthquake activity. Could this Climbing Men engraving have been repositioned after also falling from a higher position?

When considering the North Western view from behind the Climbing Men engraving it is obvious this was used as a marker indicating the location of Climbing men Valley, indeed the grooves on top of the block would appear to have been engraved to emphasise this (see photo above).

This hypothesis was tested on two occasions in July &September 2009.

The first approach on 17th July 2009 was to follow the indicators from the direction of Deep Valley towards Climbing Men Valley. The first indicator to be found was a rough cut engraving of considerable age (judging by the amount of re-patination of the engraved rock surface).

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

This points towards Deep Valley from a high point overlooking the Fertiliser Plant in King Bay. The indicated direction and shape of this marker is very similar to one found on a standing stone closer to the Climbing Men Valley,

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

Both these point in the same direction towards "Deep Valley" on the south side of King Bay. This observation made it apparent that the direction to follow should be from Climbing men Valley to Deep Valley. A further walk was organised for 9th September 2009.

Route followed on the 2nd walk 9th September 2009

Dampier Archipelago

This walk from Climbing Men Valley seemed to follow indicators of standing stones from the end of the valley, where two standing stones indicated the route to follow, marker 1, see aerial photo above.

Dampier Archipelago

From this point it was possible to view another standing stone, marker 2

Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

from which viewpoint it is possible to view the location of Deep Valley on the other side of King Bay.

The direction from this point would seem to be a straight line, marked by the standing stone found on the previous walk, marker 3 which also can be viewed from this point.

Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

From this point Deep Valley can be seen. As if to emphasize this view the further marker, marker 4, found on the previous walk, was in the line of sight.

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

Marker 3 and 4 are engraved with an "arrow" symbol, which could be interpreted as crude representations of a climbing man, see below.

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

BLANKMarker 4BLANKMarker 3

Marker 4 is repatinated and would appear to be covered with a polished surface.

Because of this connection, the view from marker 4 across King Bay to Deep valley would be culturally significant.


For a number of years rough rock terraces on the Burrup Peninsula have puzzled Archaeologists who have confirmed their artificial nature. There are a number present on the approaches to King bay, culminating in a concentration close to Climbing men Valley

Dampier Archipelago

It has been suggested that these may represent some form of agriculture. (P.Vinnicombe.1988) Excavations have so far failed to support this hypothesis. All these terraces seem to have a circular formation at one end.

Dampier Archipelago

It is this circle of rocks that may well be a clue as to their original purpose.

If we consider the current custom of "welcoming to country" by the local aboriginal groups, this could relate to very ancient traditions of a similar nature where the circular forms at the end of terraces could represent "dancing platforms". So it is suggested that these formations had a ceremonial use. Rather than repairing old and damaged platforms it was easier to build new ones. The large number of these terraces would then support the great age of occupation of the Burrup Peninsula that can be inferred from the Rock Art.

By far the greatest concentration of these terraces can be found on slopes between Climbing Men Valley and King Bay, see aerial photo below.

Dampier Archipelago

This would indicate that these terraces are somehow connected to Climbing Men Valley. If these do represent ceremonial platforms, then it would be highly likely that only one would be in use at any one time.

Preliminary investigation would suggest that those terraces closest to Climbing Men Valley are in the poorest condition and those that are further away are in much better condition. See below.

From this fact it could be suggested that:

O As individual terraces became unusable they were replaced by new ones.

O Old terraces could not be repaired, or reused, possibly for cultural reasons.

O Over time the construction of these terraces became too far from Climbing Men Valley to be of any use, so the practice ceased.

Dampier Archipelago

BLANKA typical terrace near Climbing Men valley.

Dampier Archipelago

BLANKA typical terrace along Burrup road, close to the Dampier Road junction.

This needs to be investigated further to establish:

O The total number of terraces present on The Burrup

O If there are any other areas on the Dampier Archipelago that show terraces.

O Further evidence for this proposed connection to Climbing Men Valley.

O Statistical analysis of these terraces to confirm or deny the above observation.

If this is an accurate observation, then it would follow that the terraces closest to Climbing Men valley are likely to be the oldest.

( All scales are in centimetres )

In my view an understanding of tools associated with the rock art is as important as understanding the rock art itself. An understanding of the tool assemblage and how tools relate to the rock art is an essential aspect of an overall comprehension of the prehistory of the Dampier Archipelago and the context this area has to the rest of Australia.

Brief investigations of Murujuga and the hills above Karratha have shown that the ground close to examples of rock art is littered with stone tools of various types. A survey of this material is just as important as the inventory of the rock art itself. In fact I would suggest there is a greater urgency with the compiling of a tool assemblage, as these are rapidly disappearing in some of the more frequently visited areas on the Burrup.

These tools are an integral part of the landscape, which will give an understanding of the rock art and the various cultures that created these images. Little interest, or study has so far been paid to this material.

A preliminary study of this material would suggest at least three types of tools to be present:

O Core tools

O Blade (Flake) tools

O Hammer tools

I am sure there are many more types, this research applied to three separate walks, on three separate occasions.

"Core Tools"

So far the only tools of this type that have been found are made with Gabboro, a very hard and course granite.

Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

"Hammer Tools"

All the hammer tools found so far were made with Gabboro Granite

Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

"Blade Tools"

These seem to be by far the commonest type of tool on the Burrup peninsula and surrounds. These vary in shape, but are produced by using flakes struck from cores. So far most of this type that has been found was made of Granophyre, an extremely hard and fine granite. This material behaves rather like flint and so has a clean fracture when struck. These flakes were used for cutting, as the edges were sharp when new.

Dampier Archipelago
Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago


This paper describes one of the first preliminary surveys to be carried out to compare two well known archaeological sites, to determine a real physical connection. Preliminary surveys in the past have largely been concerned with rock art and it's distribution. Sites have been surveyed in isolation, particularly in relation to proposed industrial developments, which have been confined to areas outside National Heritage control.

This survey was based upon observation and photography only, without any specific recording of locations, on two occasions during the latter half of 2009. In total two days were spent walking the distance from Deep Valley to Climbing Men Valley and back.

The physical connection relates to different markers found along the route between these two sites, all of which appear to have been deliberately placed to emphasise this connection. All standing stones mentioned above show signs of human activity.

BLANK Marker 1 (wedged in at base)

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

BLANKMarker 2 (rock wedged and balanced)

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

BLANKMarker 3 (wedged and engraved standing stone)

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

BLANKMarker 4 (engraved image)

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

BLANKClimbing Men image Deep Valley(engraved and wedged image)

Dampier Archipelago Dampier Archipelago

It is this evidence, along with the climbing men images in both valleys that connects the two. With this in mind it becomes self evident that any interruption of the view across King Bay/Hearson's Cove would be culturally destructive. Any development in King Bay should be strictly limited to take this view into account.

The terraces that were investigated indicate that those closest to Climbing Men Valley are in poorer condition than those observed further away close to the junction of Dampier road and Burrup Road. This indicates that those terraces closest to Climbing Men Valley are the oldest.

As to the purpose of these structures it can be determined that;

1. They have nothing to do with agriculture

2. They most probably have cultural origins

3. The circular end to each terrace might relate to ceremony

As the oldest terraces seem to be close to Climbing Men Valley this must indicate a connection, emphasising the importance and cultural significance of this valley.

Climbing Men Valley has a number of unique attributes in relation to Murujuga:

O There are only ancient examples of rock art present

O There are no shells, or other evidence of food being consumed in the valley.

O This place still has deep cultural significance.

If these terraces do relate to Climbing Men Valley in a culturally significant way, then they probably relate to some sort of ceremony which included dancing and singing. I would suggest this may have had something to do with traditional law.

With regard to the stone tools present there is clearly a need to research this material in order to establish a tool assemblage and determine tool types in order to define the methods used in rock art production.


Bednarik R.G. 2003 Concerns in Rock Art Science Aura Newsletter vol 20 No1 pp 1-00

Bednarik R.G. 2002 The Survival of The Murujuga (Burrup) Petroglyphs Rock Art Research vol 19 No. 1 pp 28-00

Fallon S. 2010 (State of the art radiocarbon dating)

Hallam S.J. Bird C. 2006 A Review of Archaeology and Rock Art in the Dampier Archipelago A National Trust report

McDonald J. 2009 Archaeological Survey of Deep Gorge on the Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) Dampier Archipelago W.A.

Rink W.J. 2001 Beyond 14C Dating: A user's Guide to Long-range Dating Methods in Archaeology McMaster University Hamilton Ontario Canada.

Vinnicombe, P. 1988 Salvage Archaeology of the Burrup Peninsula Australian Archaeology 25: 53 - 78

Vinnicomb, P. 2002 Petroglyphs of the Dampier Archipelago: Background to Development and Descriptive Analysis Rock Art Research vol 19 No. 1 pp 3-00