Tristen Jones and Njanjma Ranger Hilton Garnarrdj undertaking portable Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy on rock art Red Lily.

Tristen Jones and Njanjma Ranger Hilton Garnarrdj undertaking portable Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy on rock art Red Lily.

The new Dr Jones

17th July 2017

Move over Indiana, ANU has a real life archaeologist Dr Jones graduating with her PhD. And yes, she is a bit of a superhero.

Tristen Jones’ PhD was accepted without revisions, which alone is a rare achievement. She also gave birth to her son in 2014, in the middle of her degree.

During her PhD Tristen developed collaborations with ANU’s Research School of Earth Science scientists Associate Professor Penny King and ANSTO radiocarbon specialist Dr Vladimir Levchenko. Together the team redeveloped a rock art dating technique which has made it possible to accurately date rock art from mineral crusts using calcium oxalate minerals for the first time.

Jones wasn’t at her graduation ceremony because she is already in Spain working on an exciting new project. With the award of her Australia Awards Endeavour Fellowship she is comparing a body of art known as Levantine rock art from the Iberian Peninsula, with rock art known as Northern Running Figures from Kakadu National Park with Professor Ines Domingo Sanz from the University of Barcelona.

The rock art of both places are listed UNESCO World Heritage sites. and

Both art styles represent some of the earliest figurative representations of human figures engaged in interactive activities such as hunting and conflict. Both art styles are assumed to be of similar antiquity occurring from the Pleistocene –Holocene transition / Mesolithic to Neolithic periods to mid Holocene (10,000 – 8,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago).

In 2014 during her PhD Jones was awarded the prestigious George Chaloupka Fellowship from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Foundation. As part of this Fellowship Dr Jones revisited and rerecorded using the latest digital imaging technology rock art sites first located by the late George Chaloupka OAM in 1974/95, substantially contributing to the Museum’s rock art collection.

Tristen has developed close personal and professional relationships and fruitful collaborations with the Njanjna Rangers and Traditional Owners of the Maniliakarr Clan Estate which has resulted in greater knowledge of the incredible valuable rock art in various cultural heritage sites in Arnhem Land and the urgent need for the development of effective management and protection of the rock art sites. She with other academic collaborators has nominated the area where she undertook her PhD for the National Heritage List. More information regarding Tristen’s work, and the people and places she works with can be found at

Tristen shared some thoughts about her time as a PhD student

How did you manage motherhood and PhD?

I gave birth to my son Tommy in April 2014. At that point I was mid-way through my PhD with fieldwork still to do, and most of the writing to do. Luckily for me I have a very supportive husband, family and friends, so all of them have taken turns in coming along with fieldtrips and helping look after him while I work. I also had some very helpful archaeologists as mates who took the lead in helping me do fieldwork and gathering data while I sat in the 4WD at the bottom of the Arnhem Land escarpment with my 6 month old breastfed baby – I would not have been able to do my Phd without an enormous amount of support! Since he has grown up a bit now (he’s 3 years old) I’ve had to become accustomed to leaving him at home while I travel to do my research, which isn’t always easy.

What’s the most exciting thing about working as an archaeologist?

I think there’s two things. Firstly, there’s the most obvious – finding rock art sites and cultural heritage sites that no white person has probably ever been before and recorded and just being blown away by the amazing record left behind by people in the past. More importantly for me though is working with indigenous people out on country and getting to learn about their culture and their land, and helping them to develop capacity to get paid employment through Ranger Programs, caring for country programs or in cultural tourism. Besides the research, there are massive positive social outcomes from cultural heritage and archaeology work, when the research is done inclusively and is driven by the Traditional Owners.

What was the biggest challenge during your PhD?

Having the confidence to do fieldwork and travel leaving behind my son and husband. I find travelling without them for extended periods pretty difficult, especially to places where I can’t call or Skype! Normally though I’m ok once I get to our destination, but it’s definitely not for everyone. I’m getting better with practice.

Describe a day in your life right now?

At the moment I’m in Spain working on an excavation that is at least Epi Magdalenian (end of Upper Palaeolithic) in age. It’s a field school, so there are students that have never been on a dig excavating before. So at the moment I’m on the sieves, meaning that I sort through the dirt that is pulled out of the excavation and remove all the cultural finds. We are finding some pretty amazing stone artefacts! It’s great. I love being in the field getting my hands dirty – which is not the usual core business of a rock art specialist who normally spends their day behind a camera lens!

Tristen will be returning to Australia next year.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster