Who: A mish-mash of archaeology students and supervisors, both home-grown and interstate recruits
What: 10 windblown days of surveying, excavating, sieving, sorting, analysing, recording, examining, interpreting
Where: Tirringie, about 45 km from Meningie in the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray River region of South Australia
When: 15-25 February 2009
The site was recorded using a combination of offset surveying, detailed mapping of artefact distributions using a Total Station and RTK GPS surveying to map the landscape features and topography. The more technical surveys (ie RTK and Total Station) were carried out by Rob and Kara with the help of some of the local rangers from Raukkan and Camp Coorong, with the aim of creating a site map including all features of interest. It is anticipated that in addition to site plans, a fly-through (three-dimensional representation of the site enabling topography/elevation to be viewed) will also be created. Offset surveys conducted by Lynley, Heidi and Louise recorded the finer details of the blowout, plotting a range of cultural materials including shells, fire cracked rocks, lithics, otoliths, faunal remains and bone fragments. The fact that the latter needed to be carried out because someone (ok – Lynley and Heidi) broke the Total Station part-way through the survey probably doesn’t need to be mentioned, but is a good example of why you need to have a level of flexibility with regards to archaeological fieldwork and the approach you want to take.
A 1×1 m test pit was also excavated in the midden by myself, Heidi, Matt, Louise and Alana to a maximum depth below surface of ca 80 cm. In situ sediment and organic (primarily charcoal and shell) samples were obtained so the age of the shell midden could be established and cultural material present within the midden recovered for subsequent analysis for insight into subsistence strategies.
Analysis of Old People’s Remains
In a particularly disturbed part of the sand-dune, the remains of a number of Old People were eroding. Many of the remains were highly fragmented and weathered as a result of their exposure. It was also clear that skeletal remains were continuing to erode, many of which were in a better state of preservation. All surface remains were collected and analysed by Kate and I to identify any diagnostic features and to measure characteristics such as the length, orientation and palaeopathology of long bones (femur, tibia, fibula, humerus, radius, ulna). Remains of partially intact Old People were excavated (so as to prevent their eroding in the near future and suffering further weathering) and again analyses were conducted to determine age, gender and any palaeopathology exhibited. In accordance with Ngarrindjeri community wishes, all skeletal analysis was carried out on-site and at the completion of the trip all remains were reburied at the same site in a location specified by community members. Based on the preliminary results of the analysis, six discrete burials were located within the sand-dune, with a further four individuals identified amongst the fragmentary surface remains.
After 10 days filled with much laughter and learning, trench-digging and teamwork, salad and sediment and most importantly the company and support of a brilliant group of people, now the hard work begins back in the lab, sorting, analysing and interpreting all material collected.