Author Archives: samhedditch

Koonalda Cave and Archaeology at the South Australian Museum.

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

This is the third of my four blog posts for the Flinders Cultural Heritage Practicum I am completing at the South Australian Museum stores at Hindmarsh. I am currently left with three weeks of my placement before my hours have been completed and I am a little sad because I am sure I will miss the people and the artefacts I have been lucky enough to work with.

The past few weeks have taken another exciting turn in my placement at the Museum. John Hodges very kindly included me on the work on the Koonalda Cave material from the Alexander Gallus/Richard Wright excavations. We were going through one of Gallus’ trenches to find evidence of organic materials for dating purposes within boxes that related to particular site layers. A range of organic materials (e.g. bone and shell) can now return reliable radiocarbon dates whereas previously dating was largely conducted on charcoal.  We were also able to find stone tools that had ‘cementation’ of sand, dirt and limestone, as this information is part of a development in dating between geochemistry and archaeology.

Figure 1- One of the illustrations of a Flint nodule from the Koonalda Cave. (Courtesy of South Australian Museum)

Researchers at the South Australian Museum hope to submit three small specimens from this collection from various layers in the trench to give some good preliminary dates in order to back a research grant for a more wide-scale dating program.  This whole process was unfamiliar to me and the fact that many grant applications are being submitted illustrated that the best possible proposal must be put forward in order to receive the grant.

We ultimately found a range of interesting items that were suitable for C14 dating. Interestingly, we also found some small bones, possibly from a masked owl (now extinct in the Nullarbor region), that are shaped like a bone point. There was also a flint stone flake that had charcoal, bone and a cementation of limestone as its cortex, that would also be a very useful artefact for the dating program.  There were also some fascinating stone flakes and what John and I thought were small picks and axes used by people in the caves to quarry the stone.

Figure 2- A dumpy level survey map of the Koonalda Cave. There are many different maps that help piece together the site and its separate excavation seasons.(Courtesy of South Australian Museum)

However, the primary goal as stated above was to find these three samples and be able to link them to various site layers in the notes and maps associated with the excavation. Dr Walshe had a number of large scale maps laid out on the work floor which had been compiled throughout the many seasons by museum staff and speleologists working in the excavations.  The maps were useful in correlating all of the artefacts and the context in which they were collected.

Another critical piece of evidence were the notebooks of Gallus that described the material and layers within the trench that we were sorting. Gallus’ method of recording was certainly not the easiest to follow in terms of handwriting and following a logical order re: page numbers and nomenclature etc, so we had some difficulties reconciling all of the data and finding three suitable samples.

Figure 3- A page from Gallus' notebook. This is why it is important to write clear notes! (Courtesy of the South Australian Museum)

After much time and toil, our samples were found and we are in the process of having them dated. It is again a terrific experience for me and a great opportunity to be a part of this research. It demonstrated that, due to the difficulties associated with obtaining permission to dig old sites like caves or dig new ones, there are available and complete research designs that can be implemented on old collections held in museums. Even the notes and the story of the Koonalda Cave could produce its own archaeological narrative with the right interest, care and dedication.

Figure 4- A profile drawn by Gallus of one of the excavation sites. This was vital information to link layer numbers on the artefacts in the boxes to the notes and the profile sketches. (Courtesy South Australian Museum)

Needless to say, museums are not at all boring places and the excitement at the Hindmarsh store is palpable.  Better yet, I have three more weeks to further my own archaeological interests and work and to learn from some really humble, dedicated and inspiring professionals

Til next time!

Making Sense of the Winchelsea Stone Artefact Collection- Post 2

By Sam Hedditch – Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

I will briefly summarise some of the key achievements I have completed:

  • Understood the basics of lithic analysis and compared my results with that of another student’s on the collection to verify my methodology.
  • Completed a range of background reading into the areas associated with these tool finds to help discover their broader archaeological context.
  • Read a number of books and journal articles about Australian stone artefacts to familiarise myself with the tool types that are occurring in the collection.
  • Completed around half of the artefact analysis with the further completion, photography and illustrations remaining.

Although it is too early to generalise about the collection, it appears that the collector was informed of various tool types and raw materials, and hence would have probably been an enthusiast or amateur collector. Many of the tools have retouch, which is not the only type of attribute exhibited on stone tools , but was sort after from collectors and those looking for ‘typical’ members of the Australian Stone Tool Collection.

The journal named ‘The Artefact’, which is the journal of the Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria, does refer to some trips to the regions where the tools come from including: Coongie Lake and Mt Gambier, though it is unclear whether a member or a publishing Archaeologist/Anthropologist was involved in the Winchelsea collection.

The author using a lamp with magnification to assess a stone tool. The magnification can reveal tiny traces of use wear and residues.

As far as the artefact analysis goes, it is very time consuming and must be completed with consistency and great care. Attributes such as raw material of the tool, margins with retouch, tool type and weight are all part of the recording process. The attributes being recorded are a general set of attributes suited to a random collection like this. Further information on lithic analysis can be gained from Lithics: Macroscopic approaches to analysis by William Andrefskey Jnr (2005, Cambridge University Press).

One of the biggest challenges I have found is how to deal with analysing an artefact that is not a complete tool. This is the case more often than not with this collection. As is the case with many surface collections, the tools remaining are often discarded objects from previous users. When analysing, not having a platform or a distal margin intact will remove vital pieces from the story of the tool and leaves many attributes indeterminate.

However, this is all part of the process of learning and recording. I hope to gain more insight into the collector after reading more primary sources and archeological backgrounds to the areas where the tools are from. Until then I must keep measuring and recording!

The author using a set of digital calipers to measure dimensions on a stone tool.

Making Sense of the Winchelsea Stone Artefact Collection- Post 3

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

This is my third post concerning the collection of material from the Winchelsea collection. The collection is being cared for and analysed by Flinders University and I am assisting in that role.

Recently I have made some great progress where I have completed the analysis of all of the stone material that is in the collection. This took some quite long and draining afternoons of recording in the lab to complete, though now the data is available it is all worthwhile.

My next goal is to begin to write this data into an excel spreadsheet that will complete some basic analytical equations on certain attributes of the stone tools including:

  • Platform area size (length*width)
  • Overall flake dimension (length*width*thickness)
  • maximum nos. of cores, flakes,
  • Categories of tools according to raw materials and locations

When all of this is completed, I will assess the information and ensure that it is accurate and consider if there are any more opportunities to glean more information from the collection before finalising the results in my final report.

Some of the remaining goals I hope to achieve are to give a thorough background to amateur collection of the 1960-70s how this affects the collection in particular and possibly lay the foundation for a publication on this topic. I also plan to complete some accurate illustrations and some photos for my favourite and most distinctive artefacts.

Until next time, my work will continue, so much information to be gained from these artefacts!

Making sense of the Winchelsea Stone Artefact Collection-Blog Post Four

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

I have come to the end of my time with the Winchelsea stone tool collection and I am a little sad to part with it. I have discovered so much about the differences between the tools and raw materials, their uses (of which there are many) and of the history of their collection and research.

The final activities I performed on the collection were taking a complete set of photos for all of the artefacts and some illustrations for a select few. The illustrations were quite tricky in order to get the dimensions and features on the artefacts correct, and it is better to put in less detail than more sometimes (Mumford 1983). The important thing is to be aware of how to display retouch and its direction and to understand that when a jagged line is drawn mistakenly, it may be interpreted as use wear by a reader.

As for the tools, I am unsure of whether they will make it back to where they were taken from because the collector and any records of their collection are gone. I can say that they have being an amazing educational vehicle and have demonstrated to me how adaptable and technological Aboriginal culture is, just through this one aspect. I feel quite confident in identifying stone artefacts in the field in future and would recommend studying stone artefacts for anyone that would like to do the same!

One of the largest bags in the collection, the Coober Pedy Blades.

Mumford, W. 1983 Stone Artefacts: An Illustrator’s Primer. In Graham Connah (ed.),  Australian Field Archaeology: A Guide to Techniques.  Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Press.

Bonython Park and the end of my CHM placement.

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology Student.

It is hard to believe that the Cultural Heritage Practicum placement is coming to an end. I can say that it certainly has all been terrific and is ending on a particularly interesting note.

In the past few weeks, Dr Keryn Walshe and the volunteers at the museum have been collecting some surface material from Bonython Park that runs parallel to Port Road. Anyone that has seen the Big Top Circus event or ever been to the Schutzenfest may be familiar with this area.

The idea was that the material may be related to material that was found at the Adelaide Gaol in some previous work done by the museum there. This would only be revealed through some rigorous sorting and description of the material back at the Museum store.

So it was that we proceeded to bag and describe the ceramics, metal and glass material picked from the site. At a glance, the material certainly looked old enough to be 1850s-1880s, but after a number of bags were sorted, a range of about 1880s-1920s seemed the most reasonable for the material.

A collection of material from the Bonython Park area. (Courtesy of the South Australian Museum)

This does remove the material from any early settling story in the city, though there were some terrific pieces of porcelain and other items of interest within the collection. There were also a number of burnt items in the collection , which suggested that the area was probably used as a refuse at some stage, which are burnt to condense the rubbish and keep rats and other pests away.

A range of items collected from Bonython Park. This tray includes a Stones Ginger Beer bottle, made in Port Adelaide in the 1920s. (Courtesy of the South Australian Museum)

Still, there was an interesting story emerging from the site and anyone who had a research topic that they needed to complete on historical archaeology might find it an interesting place to begin.

Another tray of sorted material from Bonython Park. There is an intersting 'noveau' style ladies notepad case on the right front corner of the tray.(Courtesy of the South Australian Museum)

Well, now that my time is finished at the museum, I can say I will certainly miss it very much and have left the museum with a wealth of knowledge of many different types of cultural material. I will also have left with many new friends from the museum; thank you so much Keryn and her team of volunteers who have humbly shared their passion and knowledge with me, I am really so grateful for it!

The research potential of the South Australian Museum Collections

By Sam Hedditch, Graduate Student

This is the second of my blog posts for the Cultural Heritage Practicum (read my first post here). In the past few weeks I have completed a variety of recording and labelling tasks with a number of different collections. While some of the materials are from recently excavated and less well known sites, others are from quite old and well known areas and their location at the museum stores is the best place for their storage and for further research.

Of particular interest so far has been the re-sorting of various excavations completed at Koonalda Cave in SA. It is hoped that working through the notebooks of the staff on the digs and the excavated materials that are currently at the museum may produce traces of organic material suitable for radiocarbon dating. This should extend the age of habitation of the cave well past the 20,000 BP that is currently accepted.

Shell artefacts from the Lake George collection. Part of a huge midden with many layers!

My most recent project has been re-bagging and labelling a collection of shells from an apparently enormous midden at Lake George, near Beachport in South East South Australia. A number of different shells occur in many of the units of the excavation and there was also a piece of very interesting glass near the surface of one site.

Some of the articles being rebagged from the Lake George collection.

Needless to say, there is a great potential for research by archaeologists interested at the museum. Going back over the old material donated and collected with a fresh approach or new techniques could be instrumental in revealing new information about the area or the people who lived there.

Until next time, I will continue patiently bagging and labelling! I am having a great time there is a wealth of information and relics on record here, sure to inspire the minds of many archaeologists (including me!).

Working at the South Australian Museum Collections

By Sam Hedditch, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology Student

This is the first of my four blog posts in regards to the Cultural Heritage Practicum topic at Flinders. I will briefly describe what type of work I will be completing while under the employ of the Museum.

My predominant focus in the practicum will be lithics, or stone artefacts, which are a great interest of mine. I am working for Dr Keryn Walshe, Head Archaeologist and Researcher for the South Australian Museum. Keryn has done some amazing work in documentation and in archaeology in general. Her book, Roonka: Fugitive Traces and Climatic Mischief, is evidence of her skills and knowledge in Aboriginal cultural material. I consider myself to be very privileged to be working for her in this program and I am sure to learn a great deal.

I am principally working at the Hindmarsh store of the SA Museum. This was recently taken up by the museum having previously been used as an old state library storage space. There are an astounding number of artefacts and papers regarding archaeological work and material that are stored here. Many of the items currently at the store are donations from benefactors and are yet to be accessioned. Going through this material will form a large part of my practicum at the museum.

Canoe at entrance to State Library Building.

Correctly recording and cataloguing items is a very important job at museums and is the only way to account for the whereabouts of so many types of artefacts.

In some collections I will give a rough description of the type of artefact, the raw material of the artefact and any noteworthy features. The goal is to store the items appropriately so that they are more readily available for analysis in the future. Many challenges occur in this process as the paper, tape or marker used to note the artefacts may have worn out since its original collection by the benefactor and their interpretations of the type of artefact may differ entirely from current conventions.

Shelves at Hindmarsh store. My workspaces is on the left.

I have met a number of other researchers and volunteers at the store, and have been lucky enough to work closely with some on certain collections. They have a great deal of knowledge about their respective topics and working with such people will benefit my overall educational experience throughout my placement. I have already seen some rare and stunning examples of pre- and post-contact artefacts and can’t wait to see more.

Until next time, it’s back to the shelves for me!