Tag Archives: Indigenous Archaeology

A small town with a big archaeology collection

Amanda Atkinson

Lake Cargelligo is a small remote town in the central west of New South Wales. Driving into the town, the welcome sign indicates a population of 1500 but spend a week there and you will soon realize about half that amount of people still live there, many left during the drought years to look for work elsewhere.

Lake Cargelligo in the central west of New South Wales

The Lake Cargelligo & District Historical Society museum boasts far more of interest than your average small town historic museum. Situated in a very large and well-presented shed at the back of the Lake Cargelligo township, a small number of locals take pride in their extensive collection of artefacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. These are interesting enough on their own, but hidden at the back of the museum, in a small glass display cabinet that most people walk past, is the really exciting stuff. Well, exciting for any archaeologist who likes stone tools.

One rainy day back in 2010, a small team of colleagues and I were working on a pipeline project for the local council. We did what any archaeologist would do on a rainy day- we went in search of more archaeology! To our surprise and joy, the local historic museum houses an extensive collection of Indigenous stone tools collected over many years, from the local area. The collection includes everything  from blades, points, grinding implements, flakes to ceremonial stone sculptures, lying uncatalogued in dusty boxes. 

A sample of the artefacts on display at the Lake Cargelligo museum

An off-hand comment made during a meeting in early 2012 about the need to record the collection made me realise that this was something I could do as part of the Flinder’s Cultural Heritage Practium (ARCH 8515). After discussions with the members of the Lake Cargelligo & District Historical Society, we decided that, along with the recording and cataloging of the collection, they needed a new display which shows off this fantastic collection.

My project will focus on a new interpretive display which recognises the needs of both the Historical Society members, the local Aboriginal community and visitors to the museum. There are other interesting challenges associated with the project. Firstly, the new display will still need to fit into its existing display case, which is one of my major challenges. Secondly, I have limited funds to make the new display, which requires ingenuity and a lot of help from the Lake Cargelligo community.

On the June long weekend (the 9th, 10th and 11th June), the museum hosted its annual open weekend, where members of the Historical Society opened the museum to the public and offered special events such as horse demonstrations using a traditional plough, rope making and other traditional activities. However, this year, there was also an opportunity to “Meet the Archaeologists”. Myself and the same group of colleagues who first visited the museum in 2010, were invited back to the museum where this project first started to discuss archaeology with the public.

A working horse display during the Open Day 2012. Using original historic grinding equipment to grind grain.

Gunbalanya Repatriation – Stealing is No Bloody Good

This post discusses part of the Barunga, NT Rock Art Field School, with a focus on one of the more significant social and political events that occurred in 2011. I was a volunteer demonstrator on this field school because it was taking place in the area that I am conducting my research and I was due to begin my data collection. The participants of the field school were due to depart Darwin on Tuesday 19th July 2011, for Barunga but like all fieldwork, this changed…

Sally May (ANU) phoned Claire Smith on the Sunday before our departure to say the human remains that had recently been repatriated by the Smithsonian Institute (USA) as well as some Australian museums were being reburied in a ceremony at the community from which they were stolen. The largest collection of remains was taken from the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) region of Arnhem Land as part of the Northern Australian Expedition led by Charles Mountford. Since then, the remains have resided at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Other remains from this area that have resided in Australian museums, such as the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, had also been returned.

Our detour from Darwin - Gunbalanya - Barunga

Orchestrating the return of these remains was a long process involving many consultations between the Gunbalanya community and the museums. Ultimately, the hard work of Traditional Owners and community members paid off and the remains were returned to country.

The reburial ceremony was due to take place mid-afternoon on Tuesday and we decided that this was an event not to be missed; unfortunately, repatriation of human and cultural remains does not happen very often. In order to be on time to the cermony we had to leave Monday, which posed a problem, as some people were not arriving in Darwin until 2am Tuesday!

Flinders rock art field school crew

I left Darwin on Monday morning (with fellow students, Bianca, Nessa and Yolanda), following Sally and Ele in our rental four-wheel-drives. We arrived at Gunbalanya at about four in the afternoon; the rest of the Flinders cohort was to follow as they flew into Darwin. The second convoy (Mick, Ebbsy, Beckie, Jarrad and Tegan) arrived at about eleven pm. We were sharing a run-down, asbestos-riddled house of the like that are all too common in Aboriginal communities. The final convoy (Claire, Jacko, Michael, Zidian, Andrew, Britt, Lauren, Tom, Antoinette and Rebecca) arrived at about six am Tuesday morning.

While those that had little to no sleep slept, the rest of us helped organise the post-ceremony celebrations. The Art Centre capitalised on the large number of willing volunteers, and roped a few of the Flinders crew into helping with stock-take. What a great introduction to the necessity of flexibility on fieldwork!

The Flinders staff and students played a proactive role in the organisation and running of the events of the day; Mick, Michael and I acted as photographers for the community and visually documented the procession and ceremony. The rest of the group acted as de facto caterers for the community at the celebratory BBQ.

Cooking buffalo steaks for the celebrations

While this is a positive event, the remains should never have been stolen, especially under the guise of ‘research’. I use the word ‘stolen’ and acknowledge that some may disagree with this, however, I am not a fan of beating around the bush; this is what happened, it is the way the community feels and it is the way I feel. As Traditional Owner of the region, Jacob, says in the ABC footage, “stealing is no bloody good”. It is very important to acknowledge the wrongdoings of past researchers, however righteous they believed their actions to be, so that we can continue to learn and improve our approaches to culturally sensitive materials and issues. It is an indication of the strength of the current Australian archaeological and anthropological disciplines that most contemporary research is carried out professionally and ethically.

I will not describe the official events of the day because it is something that is better seen than read.

Instead, visit these links to the ABC news reports:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-25/celebrated-homecoming/2809308

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-20/20110720bones/2802414

Official procession to the burial grounds

There is no doubt this is one of the more important social and political events that occurred in 2011; it deserved much more media coverage than it received.

Jordan Ralph

This post originally featured  on my personal blog @ jordsralph.com

All views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisations, institutions or individuals mentioned within.

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.

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!

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

References

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.

Community based research at the Marranggung burial ground, Tailem Bend

By Michael Diplock, Associate Lecturer in Archaeology

On the 11 & 12 June this year a small group of students & staff from the Archaeology Department at Flinders were treated to a special weekend alongside the majestic (& very healthy looking) Murray River at Maranggung near Tailem Bend. We had been invited to share some of our survey and geophysics skills in a joint project involving members of Karpinyeri  Inc, Assoc. from Tailem Bend SA.

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