Indigenous Archaeology Test Excavation, NSW

Indigenous Archaeology Test Excavation, NSW


The first week of May saw me in the field for OzArk once more, this time directing the excavation of an Indigenous site in Central Western NSW. The site is a farm paddock situated on the northern edge of town, previously used for potato growing and stock grazing. The property is subject to a rural residential sub-division proposal and had been identified as an Open Site with Potential Archaeological Deposit (PAD) several years ago. Surface artefact scatters within potato furrows had suggested that sub-surface deposits existed at the location and the excavation was designed to determine the extent of the deposit and the integrity of any associated archaeological features.


The excavation methodology was as follows:

1.            Mechanical (backhoe) excavation of between eleven and fourteen 1 m x 1 m test pits, at 20 cm spits;

2.            On site wet sieving of all excavated deposits; and

3.            Post-excavation artefact analysis.

As director, I had arranged all staffing, accommodation and plant hire prior to the excavation. On site, I directed the laying out of the site (under the supervision of Dr Jodie Benton, Principal Archaeologist), briefed all staff, monitored both excavation and sieving processes, and recorded site / pit information on recording forms, stratigraphic drawings and with a digital camera. Following the excavation, my key tasks were report writing, preliminary contact with the local Land Council, and (in conjunction with Ben Churcher) artefact analysis.


Geomorphological evidence from the pits demonstrated that ploughing had disturbed the entire A Horizon. Cultural material was excavated from the A Horizon of most pits, however most were broken flakes / flaked pieces, with a small quantity of non-Indigenous glass / ceramic material, reflecting the disturbed nature of the site. Minimal cultural material was recovered from the B Horizon. No evidence of archaeological features was present at the site and the distribution of artefacts suggested that the original assemblage had been spread over the entire paddock as a result of ploughing.

Lessons learnt

1.            Plant. A test excavation involving any type of plant (in this case back hoe / water truck / bob cat) will have a better chance of success if you have done your homework beforehand. In this case, confirming that the water truck had correct hose connections, appropriate hose lengths, adequate pressure and volume and a pre-deployment water supply meant that there were no delays due to incorrect fittings, inadequate pressure, or the need to re-fill during the day. Likewise, confirming that the backhoe had the correct kind of mud bucket and that the operator understood the exact nature of the holes we needed meant that he was prepared to start work immediately (in fact he produced excellent pits!).

2.            Photography. The job of directing an excavation involves regular / continual monitoring of the various activities being conducted on site. Becoming TOO involved with monitoring, however, can lead you to either forget to, or run out of time to, record and photograph the operation adequately. I made the mistake of focussing too much on monitoring for the first morning and consequently I did not photograph the back hoe excavating any pits. Such a photograph would have been useful come report writing time; this only occurred to me about an hour after the back hoe had finished and left the site! (I did get a photo of the bob cat backfilling the pits though!) The lesson learnt here, then, is to make sure every task conducted on site is photographed, for example:

            a.            Setting up / laying out pits;

            b.            Excavation (whether mechanically or by hand);

            c.            Filling buckets;

            d.            Sieving; and

            e.            Artefact cleaning and recording.

3.            Paperwork. Ensure that all administrative paperwork is filled in before work commences. OH&S is particularly important here (if you haven’t done the paperwork and things go wrong, you have dramas!). Probably the other really important piece of paperwork is some kind of Indigenous community participation form indicating who participated, in what ways, and what their views on the project are. This is helpful when writing the report as all of that information needs to be written up. It also helps to establish that the correct community participation procedures have been followed.

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