Tag Archives: Fieldwork

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.

OzArk in the field

Hello folks!

Since my last entry, most of my OzArk internship work has been in the field. It’s made a nice break from office work!

My first fieldwork during April was a survey of Indigenous heritage in two areas of State Forest in the Blue Mountains in order to determine whether sites existed that might be affected by subsidence caused by nearby mining activities. Given that the area is underlain by sandstone and is characterised by significant outcrops, our primary focus was on possible rock shelters. Narrabeen sandstone is quite friable and is therefore usually unlikely to contain art, however we thought deposits were possible.

We were unsurprised to discover no artwork, as wind erosion was a constant feature in the overhangs and any art that might have been present once would have been removed by the wind. No items were found in any of these shelters that could conclusively be identified as artefacts, however a number of isolated and clustered artefacts were located along vehicle tracks and in the open country to the west of the mountains. Whilst surveying a number of pagodas, one of our Indigenous community representatives stated that he believed we had found a group of ceremonial (initiation) sites.

The 21st of April saw a shift from Indigenous archaeology to industrial archaeology, as OzArk conducted a survey of twentieth century dam / pipeline / reservoir sites in the western Blue Mountains. What was interesting about this survey was the way in which industrial heritage is something of an evolving beast. Few of the items examined remained in their original state, but rather they had been modified, moved, removed and / or repaired according to operational needs. It would be easy to be precious about modifications to buildings and infrastructure – such as new instead of original pipeline materials, new roofing over structures without original roofs, or new facades on old workshops – but the nature of a major water provision service have at times over-ridden some heritage concerns, with justification. The components examined were working buildings and infrastructure and the requirement to provide water services in accordance with best-practice techniques (especially with regards to community and workplace safety) justifies such alterations.

A further aspect of this project, particularly interesting for me as a student of military archaeology, was the presence at two sites of buildings often referred to as “Nissen Huts”. These are sheds where the walls and roof form a continuous semi-circular shape, and are also referred to as igloos thanks to their shapes. These sheds were designed during WWI by a British Army Major and variants became common throughout the UK, USA and Australia during WWII. The common term “Nissen Huts”, though, is something of a misnomer, as later incarnations of this style of prefab building had other names, such as the Romney Hut, and it’s important to find the right nomenclature (not easy, as these are not particularly well differentiated in the literature by archaeologists in Australia, most of whom (other than Iain Stuart) seem happy with Nissen Hut as a blanket term!).

This week has me in Central Western NSW excavating a farm paddock as part of a future housing sub-division. More on this in my next blog!


The Ten Oldest Buildings in Melrose Park

Hi everyone, my name is Amy, and I am currently enrolled in the Directed Study topic with Dr Alice Gorman. My project involves identifying and researching the ten oldest buildings in a suburb within the City of Mitcham, South Australia.

My industry partner for this project is Maggy Ragless, the Community Historian of the Mitcham Heritage Research Centre. Maggy has been extremely helpful, and is a wealth of local knowledge. I met with Maggy to determine which suburb I was interested in researching. I had several options, and decided to research the suburb of Melrose Park. Relatively little research regarding this suburb has been conducted in the past, and this project is an excellent opportunity to improve our local knowledge.

The initial phase of the project involved systematic fieldwork around the streets of Melrose Park. Each building, in every street was evaluated in the field for its possible age. This assessment was based on research conducted before fieldwork began. Buildings were evaluated by their architectural traits, in order to provide a rough estimate for the date of construction. In many cases, it was a process of elimination, as the majority of buildings were clearly too modern for the period of interest.

I have recently finished my fieldwork and currently have a list of 16 buildings. This list needs to be condensed to ten. I will do this by researching each individual building at the Land Titles Office to determine which are the oldest.

Internship: OzArk EHM, NSW

Hello folks! I’m Kim, a Grad Dip Arch student from near Orange in NSW. I’m enrolled in the ARCH 8514A CHM Internship topic this semester and am completing this through OzArk EHM, a small archaeological / ecological heritage assessment firm based in Dubbo.

My work thus far has involved consultancy report writing and a field survey near Forbes – in fact I’ll be setting out on a survey of mountainous country near Lithgow tomorrow, primarily with a focus on Indigenous rock shelters.
I’m also project managing a test excavation of an Indigenous open site due to take place near my own home sometime in April. So far this has involved making contact with local backhoe / water truck contractors and obtaining quotes for their services.
Late April will see me travelling to the Lithgow area again to work on a survey of significant non-Indigenous industrial archaeological sites.
One of the advantages of this placement at OzArk is the variety of project types available. Thus far I have had the opportunity to survey a site involving scarred trees in inland NSW and, as mentioned above, have (likely) rock shelters, stone tool assemblages, and industrial archaeology coming up. I also have the chance to work closely with our ecologists, thus gaining insights into an aspect of heritage that I have not studied in detail during my archaeological training.

Masters Thesis: Fieldwork at Tirringie 09

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

In mid-February 09, a group of intrepid archaeologists (and archaeologists-in-training) braved the harsh and often-gruelling conditions (aka home-made cookies, spa baths and trashy tv shows) to spend 2 weeks at the Coorong working with Ngarrindjeri community members to survey, record, excavation, investigate and rehabilitate a culturally important Old People’s burial site. Continue reading