New technology helps preserve valuable cultural heritage

In September the Western Yalanji people revealed the results of many years of hard work when they introduced the perfectly recreated cast of an ancient dendroglyph (tree carving) from their rainforest country. 

The cast was taken after the tree on which the dendroglyph was carved fell and began to rot on the forest floor.

Four years earlier in 2015, the Western Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation (WYAC) had brought together a team that included Rupert Russell (former Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger), Bill Carrodus (Wet Tropics Management Authority) and archaeologist, Alice Buhrich (James Cook University) to locate the tree and assess its preservation. It was found alive but suffering from extensive fungal rot and natural ageing.

In 2018, WYAC Chair Johnny Murison and members Dwayne Williams and Chivaree Brady along with Ben Jones (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service) and Alice Buhrich went to the site to evaluate the health of the tree—this was the first time in a long time that Yalanji people had visited the carving. Sadly, they found that the tree had fallen and they became concerned that this priceless artefact may be lost.

Planning then began to rescue the carving before it rotted away. The Authority, QPWS, and Alice offered their support to WYAC to recover the carving. The Authority provided a grant of $10,000 to the Western Yalanji to work with Queensland Museum to preserve this important artefact.

In May 2019, Johnny Murison led a new group to the remote site, where work began to document the dendroglyph using a technique known as photogrammetry. A casting mould of the carving was also created.

In late September the three-dimensional renderings of the tree and a mould of the carving were presented to a gathering of Western Yalanji and others in Mareeba on the Atherton Tableland.

It was believed to be the first time photogrammetry has been used on a dendroglyph in Australia.

‘It's not simply a replication. It's a tool you can use to better analyse aspects of a dendroglyph,’ said Queensland Museum archaeologist Nicholas Hadnutt.

‘When you have scanning in such high resolution and change the light across the surface you can see things that you wouldn't come across if you were just standing in the rainforest.’

Museum researcher Scott Hocknull said the technology allowed Traditional Owners and archaeologists the chance to understand source materials in ways previously not imagined.

‘You can now create artificial reality, virtual reality, 3D prints, animate it—you can do a whole range of cool things with that object once you've captured it,’ Dr Hocknull said.

The Authority’s Executive Director Scott Buchanan congratulated all on a great collaborative effort. ‘The leadership of the Western Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, combined with the Alice’s persistence, Queensland Museum’s innovation, and the technical skills of QPWS and the Authority has resulted in the capture of this important artefact for future generations of Western Yalanji and all Australians.’

Thanks to ABC Far North Queensland for some of the quotes used in this story.

For more information the ABC story can be found here.

New technology helps preserve valuable cultural heritage

Published: 12th Nov 2019

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