• Yindjibarndi and Ngarluma man and tour guide, Clinton Walker, estimates the carvings to be at least 5,000 years old. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
An expert says the finding in WA's Pilbara region could be the beginning of thousands of significant, intertidal rock art discoveries.
Shahni Wellington

19 Jul 2021 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2021 - 4:24 PM

A set of kangaroo footprints carved into a West Australian coastline rock could be the first recorded underwater rock art in Australia's history.

The etchings, uncovered in the north-west Pilbara region, may also be among the only discoveries of this kind in the world.

It is a significant historical find, located by Traditional Owner, Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi man, Clinton Walker.

Clinton was out on country with his cousin when he was 'pulled towards' the direction of the site.

"We just had this feeling to go to this one particular area and the tide was out, so we thought 'Oh, while we're there, we'll just go looking for tucker - Mud crabs and maybe some fish and stuff," Clinton said.

But what they found that day was much better than dinner.

Estimated to be minimum 5,000 years old

The discovery re-iterates the presence of Aboriginal peoples on this land, long before the changing coastline of the Australian border.

Last year, experts discovered the country's first confirmed ancient underwater archaeological sites from the continental shelf, located in a similar area off the Murujuga coastline in north-western Australia. 

As the founder of 'Ngurrangga Tours,' Clinton Walker is no stranger to identifying cultural sites and artworks.

He works as the head guide, teaching groups about the on-going connection to land and sea throughout the Burrup Peninsula, which is already well known for the world's largest collection of Aboriginal rock art within the Murujuga National Park.

Ancient cultural sites have been re-discovered on the sea floor
Rising sea levels on the Pilbara coast have kept the first underwater archaeological sites hidden for thousands of years.

"There's many different aspects to the rock art, but generally a lot of rock art especially to do with kangaroo tracks is connected to the area in terms of how it used to be a hunting area for kangaroo, but also is part of songlines that go in-land and to other tribes country," Mr Walker explained.

While the rock art is to be examined and verified by Western archaeologists - based on the timing of rising sea levels in the area following the last ice age, Mr Walker told NITV News it would make the art at least 5,000 years old.

He is working with the local Murujuga Rangers to preserve and protect the site, especially from erosion.

It's hoped that the discovery could lead to stronger Native Title rights for Traditional Owners in the area by proving an ongoing cultural connection to the seas.

'The sky's the limit'

The location of the kangaroo prints could hold the key to unlocking mysteries of how, and if, ancient cultural artefacts survive in the intertidal zone.

Associate Professor at Flinders University and submerged archaeology specialist, Jonathan Benjamin, said Clinton's discovery is just the beginning. 

"Certainly it would be the first in Australia," he said.

"If it's very old, then that'd be really interesting because we could study the impacts of survival in the intertidal zone and if we can do that, then we can start to look at other similar environments and similar locations, and we can start to actually go out and really try and find more rock art underwater - which is hugely exciting," Dr Benjamin said.

Dr Benjamin was part of the expedition that documented the drowned ancient cultural landscapes off the coast of the Pilbara, and would like to see more 'individual discoveries' around the country.

"The sky's the limit here, there is going to be plenty of submerged Indigenous heritage on the Australian continental shelf in all states and territories,"

"If people start looking for it and get their eye in - They'll start finding it," Dr Benjamin said.

Family finds ancient boomerang near creek on Mornington Peninsula
"I was gobsmacked when I found out how old it was. I thought maybe it was a couple hundred years old."