The Australian government has nominated Murujuga Cultural Landscape for inscription on the World Heritage List.
The nomination, announced Friday, was submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in late January 2023.
If accepted, Murujuga would be only the second site in Australia listed for World Heritage Status for First Nations cultural heritage.
Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation prepared the nomination in partnership with the Western Australian government, with support and advice from the Australian government and technical experts.
Landscape in the north-west of Western Australia is of massive cultural and spiritual significance and of continuous culture and practice. It contains evidence of continuous traditional culture and practice in the area over for more than 50,000 years.
The nomination presents Murujuga as a living cultural landscape, with potential "Outstanding Universal Value" demonstrated through the extensive petroglyph collection, the living cultural traditions, and the deep time histories of land and sea use.
Murujuga is home to an estimated 1-2 million images in an area of more than 100,000 hectares, across land and sea country.
It has the densest known concentration of hunter-gatherer petroglyphs anywhere in the world, and the art works demonstrate "an extraordinary diversity of style, theme, mode of production and aesthetic repertoire", according to the Australian government.
A proposed World Heritage boundary, of nearly 100,000 hectares of land and sea country, has been negotiated.
Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Peter Jeffries said the Corporation is proud to have led the preparation of the nomination, on behalf of the Traditional Owners and Custodians for Murujuga, and in partnership with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
"For more than two decades, the Ngarda-Ngarli have aspired for World Heritage listing of Murujuga and for our traditional knowledge and lore to be at the centre of decision-making, governance and management of this land and sea country," he said.
"We see inscription on the World Heritage List as a mechanism to support what we have always done – share knowledge, protect our sacred places and ensure that we are in the best position to respond to the needs of Country."
In a statement, the Australian government said the protection afforded by World Heritage status "would ensure that Traditional Owners are managing and protecting Murujuga in partnership with the Australian, Western Australian and local governments".
UNESCO's assessment process will take at least 18 months and the earliest the nomination is likely to be considered by the World Heritage Committee is mid-2024.
Federal Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek described Murujuga as "a site of great significance to Traditional Owners, where culture, customs and beliefs have been passed on for thousands of generations".
"Murujuga is a natural wonder of the world – a place for all Australians to reflect on years of continuous living culture. The cultural attributes attest to a long and continuing presence, and rich cultural connections between people, beliefs, and landscape," she said.
"Our government is strongly committed to working with Traditional Owners and Custodians to properly protect the history of the oldest living civilisation in the world. This includes by developing new national standalone legislation to protect First Nations cultural heritage."
WA Minister for Environment and Climate Action Reece Whitby congratulated everyone working towards the formal nomination for more than four years, "especially the Traditional Owners for sharing their invaluable knowledge and making this nomination possible".
Former Chair of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation Raelene Cooper, now a spokesperson for the Save Our Songlines campaign, welcomed the nomination but said more needs to be done to protect the important sites in the area.