Professor Jo McDonald

Started at UWA: 2012


Archaeologist and international rock art specialist

By understanding how people have communicated with each other through time, and how symbolic behaviour allows people to mediate their behaviour through non-verbal communication, we can perceive many things about human responses to changing environment and social change.Professor Jo McDonald

Professor Jo McDonald is an archaeologist and rock art researcher who describes herself as ‘lucky enough to work on some of the most amazing rock art in the world’.

After growing up on Sydney’s southern beaches, Professor McDonald was fascinated to discover during her undergraduate studies that Sydney’s bush was full of rock art.

She went on to study rock art depictions of kangaroo’s feet for her honour’s degree, subsequently excavating decorated shelters to contextualise the Sydney regional rock art production for her PhD. She now works on rock art in the Western Desert, Pilbara and Great Basin (United States), discovering the context of its production through time.

Professor McDonald loves the intensity of fieldwork in the Australian arid zone and relishes the opportunity to collaborate with Aboriginal communities on their country, building strong research and community ties. This commitment was recognised in 2017 when Professor McDonald was the face of UWA Research Week.

She teaches the Rock Art Field Unit and believes the best thing about teaching is watching people discover knowledge about themselves and the world.


  • BA (Hons) (USyd)
  • PhD (ANU)

External positions:

  • Director, Centre for Rock Art Research + Management
  • Chair, Australia ICOMOS National Scientific Committee on Rock Art Australia (NSCRAA)
  • Rio Tinto Chair in Rock Art Studies


  • ARC Future Fellowship
  • Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming - ARC Linkage Project
  • Deep History of Sea Country – ARC Discovery Project

Our rock art, our heritage – Jo McDonald for TEDxPerth

Supervisor opportunities

Professor McDonald has been supervising PhD students since 2003, covering topics such as rock art, archaeology, pigment analysis, style analysis, and regional prehistories.

Professor McDonald welcomes expressions of interest via email from prospective postgraduate students interested in areas related to her research. To discuss your options, contact Professor McDonald using the details below.

Contact Professor Jo McDonald