Author Archives: fene0012

Material of the SA Museum storage facility at Netley

South Australian Museum Archives Practicum – Blog Post 3

By Adrian Fenech

On one of the work placement days I was given a tour of the South Australian Museum storage facility at Netley by PhD student, Gary Toone. On the tour, Gary explained the cultural heritage values of objects the museum has in the Australian Ethnology collection. He talked to me about the collections of shields, boomerangs, string bags and mats and told me that their cultural heritage value arises through the connection of present-day Aboriginal people to the artistry, technology and memories they represent.

Museum exhibits are only a fraction of the material the institution looks after (Photograph from StudyAdelaide 2008).

The objects have cultural heritage value because they continue to be accessed and utilised today. Indeed, living Aboriginal artists like to visit the store to see their early works and to seek inspiration and ideas from the shapes, colours and designs on some of the older objects. Young Aboriginal people also have opportunities to visit the store where they can see and ‘connect’ with the thousands of objects.

As noted above, the string bag and mat collections hold cultural heritage value partly because of the materials and techniques used to manufacture them. Aboriginal women are now examining the string products to identify the plant materials and the various techniques that that were used to create them. Sometimes the people who made the actual objects are there to pass on this information to others. These techniques are then used to create new string products, continuing the use of these technologies and methods (Gary Toone pers comm. 2011).

Reference list

StudyAdelaide 2008 Arts & Culture. Retrieved 6 October 2011 from

Pictures tell thousands of words

South Australian Museum Archives Practicum – Blog Post 2

By Adrian Fenech

I have had some successes and challenges in analysing Norman Tindale’s slides at the South Australian Museum Archives (located at the Science Centre). I have learned techniques to relate Tindale’s journals to his slides by addressing pieces of information in conjunction with each other. Initially I made some errors in the input of data into the information fields which made it more difficult to understand the slide information. The largest error was not being specific enough in differentiating between the “title” and “description” data fields. This is because I originally classified “title” data to be all of the text on the top portion of the slide. This sometimes included the beginning of a sentence which continued on at the bottom of the slide in which case I began by putting the bottom portion of the entry in the “description” field.

However, by looking at the many pieces of data together in Tindale’s slides I have been able to connect more of them to his journals. These fields are: photograph date, location and the name of Aboriginal group involved. Employing all three fields together helps to narrow down the journals that may relate to the slides. Google maps has also been used when the journal information does not contain the specific place a slide mentions. This involves finding which area that Tindale was visiting at the time and using Google maps to determine if the location mentioned on the slide is nearby.

The South Australian Museum Science Centre (photograph from Whitford and Browne 2003).

Reference list

Whitford, K. and R. Brown 2003 Museums and Fish Collections. Retrieved 6 October 2011 from

Midden sample floatation process going swimmingly

By Adrian Fenech, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology Student

I have started the floatation procedure that I described in my earlier post and it is proceeding reasonably quickly. I am still thinking about the defloccation procedure but I am unsure if I will have enough time to accommodate it.

Despite the mess of sugar water I am making in the archaeology labs, the floatation is going well because it has managed to float quite a few materials that will be picked out in the sorting stage. So far, the dominant floated materials have been charcoal and vegetation, the former would have been difficult to locate in sorting. This is because of the many other dark-coloured materials in the samples. The photos below show the resulting fractions produced by the floatation work.

Light fraction: material which floated

Heavy fraction: material that sank

The photos show the contrast in materials that the floatation produced. The light fraction consists primarily of charcoal with some vegetation and a few shells. The heavy fraction is dominated by shell with a considerable amount of stones and some faunal material (from a glance). I’ve only just begun the slow process of sorting through the heavy fractions; hopefully I’ll find some non-molluscan fauna!

I am considering the defloccation procedure because the sugar water is often black after its second floatation. After the materials have been rinsed off, they are still encrusted with a considerable amount of sediment. A test will have to be performed; two samples of materials, one with defloccation performed and one without will be sorted and the ease of sorting will be compared. This will be subjective, though because it will be difficult to get two samples that are equal in quantities of material types.

Photography with Tindale

By Adrian Fenech, Graduate Diploma, Archaeology student

This practicum involves working in the South Australian Museum Science Centre adding new indexed information to the online archives. I am analysing photographic slides taken by the well-known Australian ethnographer Norman Tindale.  Tindale travelled around Australia documenting Aboriginal languages, clan or language group territories and material culture (Tindale 1974: 121 and 164). The indexed information I document will be made available to the public. However, some access limitations exist in relation to the materials listed in the index mostly due to cultural sensitivity provisions.

The 35mm photographic slides were taken by Norman Tindale on his many trips around Australia and elsewhere. The information regarding these slides will be available in the online archives and will include information such as the location and a description of the slide subject. These slides can be useful for research purposes, either general interest or academic because the slides can be linked to one of Tindale’s numerous journals. They can also be of great interest to Indigenous communities who may be the subject of the photographs.

Entering slides into the database

As noted above, not all slides will be available in the archive because some were removed by various Aboriginal representatives due to the fact that they contained sensitive cultural material. A few other slides are still physically in the material archives but have been labelled as restricted. Some indexing information has, however, been allowed on the online archive, at least enough to give a general idea of the slide, for example when and where the photograph was taken.

You can look through the Tindale Archives at:


Tindale, N.B. 1974, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sugar is useful in archaeology

By Adrian Fenech, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology Student

The directed study I am working on involves reanalysing material excavated by Mick Morrison from Weipa in northern Queensland and uses sugar to aid the ‘floatation’ lab technique. I’m doing this because previous research projects on shell mound sites in northern Australia suggests that they contain very few faunal materials other than shellfish remains. The aim of this work is to find if the low recovery rate of faunal materials in samples is due to taphonomic or sampling technique biases. I am going to use chemical floatation to assist the sorting and faunal identification processes.

The chemical floatation process involves dry sieving the archaeological material and then immersing it in water that has been treated with some kind of chemical (Ross and Duffy 2000, p 33). This is designed to change the specific gravity of the water to separate materials that have different weights. For reasons of personal safety and economy, sugar will be used, hopefully the lab technicians, John and Chantal will not think that I am cooking in the lab.

A secondary process I am considering is defloccation which involves swirling archaeological materials around in a solution of water and some form of cleaning agent. I will be playing this by ear until I can see if the floatation cleans the material in any way.

Dry sieving


Ross, A. and R. Duffy 2000, Fine mesh screening of midden material and the recovery of fish bone: the development of floatation and deflocculation techniques for an efficient and effective procedure. Geoarchaeology 15(1): pp. 21-41.

Vale, D. and R.H. Gargett 2002 Size matters: 3mm sieves do not increase richness in a fishbone assemblage from Arrawarr 1, an Aboriginal Australian shell midden on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia. Journal of Archeological Science. vol. 29: pp. 57-63.