Tag Archives: Artefacts

Dinosaurs are not Archaeology, but what is?


I had tinkered with different ideas for this post, but seeing as it was my first ever blog, where better to look for an idea than my first ever dig! Where I learned (finally) what archaeology really is.


Whenever I reply to the question, “what do you do?” with the answer “archaeology”, I am often met with the same misinformed replies of “dinosaurs’!” or “oh, like Indiana Jones?” As a result I am repeatedly forced to attempt to correct their presumptions. “Archaeology is the study of the human past through the analysis of material remains” I say, paraphrasing dry academic quotations from university textbooks, and, while such phrases have relevance to me, I can see most people’s eyes glaze over at this point.

This left me to wonder, why? To me, archaeology is fascinating and exciting, but I could never seem to translate that into words well enough to convince people. Then I had the opportunity to be part of the Advanced Archaeology Field School. I had the chance to excavate the Magpie Creek Ruin in Sturt Gorge. I had the privilege to pull up my sleeves, get down on my knees and dig. To see history literally coming out of the ground before my very eyes, to sieve artefacts from seemingly innocuous dirt, to turn an overgrown pile of rubble into a near complete horse skeleton! To see firsthand the magic of archaeology.


And then I realized something. The reason I couldn’t fully explain archaeology before this point was because I hadn’t lived it yet. I had read about it, watched it, learned it, but never lived it. Well now I have, and I finally understand why I couldn’t convince others of how amazing archaeology really is. It’s because they haven’t lived it yet either. So, if ever you walk past a dig or know of one in your area, I encourage you to pop along, ask a few questions and see for yourselves just what archaeology is. Who knows, you might love it as much as I do.

Who Gets a Tan in Alaska?

Celeste Jordan

I write to you from the depths of Western Alaska, along the Bering Sea in the large (by Alaskan standards) village of Quinhagak. It is a coastal community of about 700 people (City-Data 2011) that has a long and rich history.

The Quinhagak archaeological site is located right on the coast, about 6.5km from the village itself. The site is under serious threat from coastal erosion and lead investigator, Dr Rick Knecht, says that it all could slide into the Bering Sea with one major storm (Rick Knecht, pers. comm. 2013).

Quinhagak, Alaska. (City-Data 2011)

Quinhagak, Alaska. (City-Data 2011)

With 3 excavation seasons in the last 4 years, the site has produced some amazing artefacts and yielded unexpected information. The site was occupied between 1350 AD and 1630 AD, pre-contact (1820’s for Quinhagak) (Knecht 2012:21). The 1630 AD occupation period ended abruptly when the village was attacked by a neighbouring village in what is known as The Bow and Arrow War (Knecht 2012:23).

(White tent marks the site locale. Knecht 2012:34)

(White tent marks the site locale. Knecht 2012:34)

Over the last 10 days, 19 people from Scotland, the US, Canada, Lithuania and Australia have been working on two separate areas of the site: area A and area B.  Samples of fur, hair and seeds are being taken in most contexts. Below the tundra sod level, broken pottery, animal bones, mask fragments, labrets (cheek and lip plugs), broken shafts, dolls of various sizes, a toy bow and arrow, and lance and harpoon points are being excavated regularly.

De-sodding the site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

De-sodding the site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

The focus of my Directed Study is to understand the maritime subsistence and settlement pattern of Yup’ik culture through artefact study from in situ remains, and site and material culture analyses. This will help not only in my understanding of Yup’ik culture but also, with further investigation, the Quinhagak community in understanding their heritage as well.

So far, last Saturday has been the most exciting day. After many days of removing sod, beautiful artefacts emerged including:

  • An entire and complete bowl
  • A decorated labret
  • A carved ulu handle with what looks like 2 Palraiyuks either end
  • Several dolls
  • A fish and seal mask attachments
  • Mask fragments

These artefacts are a good indication that we are now truly down into the cultural layers—Finally!

Today was beautiful and sunny. Most of us worked in t-shirts, except when the mosquitoes (that are the size of small semi-trailers) and ‘no-see-ums’ (midges) forced us to wear sleeves. I’m anticipating coming home with a tan! We mainly focused on moving through the contextual layers with carefully excavating and screening.

A glorious day on site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

A glorious day on site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Only the north part of area A produced anything of note today and boy did it produce! In quick succession this is what was excavated:

  • A small wooden box
  • A big wooden transformation doll – female to wolf
  • A labret
  • An almost complete mask
  • Snow goggles
  • Fur
Snow goggles in use by excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Colleen Lazenby 2013

Snow goggles in use by excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Colleen Lazenby 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Other artefacts were recovered today, but nothing like what was excavated in north area A by Chas Bello, one of our most experienced archaeologists. We still have 11 days left of excavation. Who knows what amazing artefacts still await us in the dirt?

There are blog posts everyday at http://nunalleq.wordpress.com


City-Data 2011 Quinhagak, Alaska. Retrieved 8 August 2013 from <http://www.city-data.com/city/Quinhagak-Alaska.html>

Knecht, Rick 2012 Introduction to the Nunalleq Site. Presentation given to field crew, Quinhagak, Alaska

Mallala: An intersection and a museum

Hidden in a small town one and a half hours away from the CBD is a wonderful museum full of town history and other artefacts. Operated by volunteers of the Mallala and Districts Historical Committee, the museum displays a range of donated items from people in the community to show the different eras the town associates with, as well as the things they are proud of.

One important artefact that is on display at the museum is the dining table from the elusive Seven Stars Hotel. This is one of the last pieces of the Seven Stars Hotel left, along with some newspaper clippings. This is a great piece to show the history of the town.

Table from the Seven Stars HotelTable from the Seven Stars Hotel

However, there are some items on display that are quite scary looking, this is including the dolls on the top level, which looked like something right out of ‘Dolls’ (1987). However, apart from these dolls the overall collection is quite spectacular for a small country town museum. The old school building attached is quite fascinating, along with a penny-farthing, which, after reading the description they included with it, actually makes a lot of sense.

However, as amazing as I thought the museum was, it saddened me that, upon looking at the visitor’s book, the last person had signed it over three months ago, now obviously not everyone signs the book but considering how awesome this museum was, it is a shame that no one really knows about it. For a small fee, it could be a nice day out with the family, a picnic in front and a valuable history lesson as well.

Therefore, if you are ever down near Mallala, why not take the time out on a Sunday afternoon to visit this wonderful place?

(Photo courtesy of Hayley Prentice)

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!

Archaeology and local memory in Bendigo

By Helen Cronin, Master of Archaeology student

As part of the research for my directed study working on an exhibition of local archaeology, I visited the ceramics consultant who had been at the excavation. The visit revealed the intimate connections between what comes out of the ground and what people remember.

Dennis O’Hoy has long been a champion of local heritage in Bendigo winning the inaugural Ray Tonkin award from Heritage Victoria for volunteer contributions to heritage earlier this year. Now retired, the former Principal Lecturer in ceramics and Head of the Department of Visual Arts at La Trobe University in Bendigo has an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese, Bendigo Pottery and general ceramics.

It was like asking a child to show you his prized Transformers collection. He showed me photos of the Forest Street excavation (that hadn’t made it into the final report) and DVDs about various digs he’s worked on. Dennis plays a major part in the DVD about the Chinese kiln dig in 2005/6 talking about the Chinese ceramics found on the site. His back shed is crammed with shelves lined with samples of bottles, jars, Chinese and European ceramics – all stored in chronological order, all provenanced, all recorded on a database. It used to be his teaching collection. I thought back to the lab at Port Arthur in January where we were looking at shards of this sort of thing and trying to identify what they were from texts and the lab manager’s extensive knowledge. Dennis has complete samples.

I asked where the ceramics from the Forest Street site were likely to have come from. “Oh, they would have bought them here,” he said, and pulled out a copy of An American on the Goldfields. The book reproduces photos taken by American photographer Benjamin Batchelder during the early 1860s, which are now held by the State Library of Victoria.

Pall Mall Bendigo looking north from fountain sometime 1890-1901

Pall Mall Bendigo sometime between 1890 and 1901. The fountain is about a two minute walk from the Forest Street site. The photo is taken around the time of the richest artefact desposits on the site. Source: State Library of Victoria

Dennis took me for a “walk” through Bendigo’s shops. It’s something you can do when you’re both familiar with all the streets and some of the buildings still exist. He showed me where I could buy everything from dinner sets to clothes, fabric and horse gear. We also strolled into the Chinese district where he pointed out the room in building where he was born. It’s no longer there; the buildings were all knocked down in the 1970s and eventually the area become the Chinese (tourist) precinct where the Golden Dragon museum now stands.

“Remember the DVD about the Chinese kiln where I’m talking about the bowl?” he asked. Yes – he’s showing the base of a green glazed bowl excavated from the site and explaining about the trade in Chinese ceramics in the 19th century. On the base of the inside you can see a pink and green flower. On what remains of the outside of the bowl, you can see enough of the design to guess that it decorated the outside as well.

Dennis knelt down and opened a door in an old cabinet in his living room and pulled out a whole sample of the same bowl, complete with small chips on the rim apparently from everyday use. “It came from my grandfather’s shop.”