by Emily Shepard, Visiting Scholar
Hello, my name is Emily Shepard, and I am an archaeology master’s student from Portland State University in the United States. I am very excited to be at Flinders working with Dr. Mick Morrison on a really interesting topic – culturally modified trees (CMTs). This project focuses on ‘sugarbag’ trees: or CMTs that were scarred through wild honey (sugarbag) collection by Indigenous peoples living in the Weipa region of the northern Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.
A sugarbag scar on an Ironwood tree near Weipa
Although sugarbag collection was almost certainly a part of Indigenous lifeways for many thousands of years, prior archaeological and anthropological research by Dr. Morrison and Dr. Darlene McNaughton suggests that honey procurement strategies shifted substantially in the past century. These changes, which primarily relate to intensification of honey harvest, seem to have been influenced by access to new technology, such as larger axes. However, some of these changes may also reflect strategies of Indigenous peoples for engaging with new economic, social and political conditions arising from the arrival of missionaries. Hopefully, this project will both aid in developing methods for classifying these CMTs, and will shed light on aspects of life of Indigenous peoples living in the region that were left out of the historical record by missionaries.
I’m hoping this project will highlight the potential of data from CMTs to address a variety of interesting and important questions not only in Australia, but also in the United States and Canada. I’m travelling to Weipa with Mick and other students working on a project investigating the history of the mission early next month, and we hope to collect a lot of new information on sugarbag (and other) scarred trees found around the former mission settlement.
This research is funded by the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute, which is made possible by the United States National Science Foundation and the Australian Academy of Science.
Finally, the Ngaut Ngaut brochures have been printed. This was not an easy task. I had originally planned to get the brochures printed by a professional printing company. However, after making some phone calls, it became clear that using a printing company would be more work that originally expected. I was worried that the colours of the brochure would turn out different to how they looked when printed out on my home printer. Also, there was a worry that the specific folding specifications of a printing company would require the columns to be set in a very specific way. As the printing companies intended to charge for every adjustment made to the original file (once I submitted it to them), I was reluctant to go with a printing company at all.
A couple of weeks ago I presented on this topic at Alice’s presentation afternoon. I pretty much stuck to what my methods had been as opposed to my results. Anyway, this semester is finishing and this is my last blog post for this topic.
My report was written with a focus on previous archaeological, anthropological and environmental studies in relation to the ten different locations of the SANTs Collection. Unfortunately there seems to be a dearth of such prior work within South Australia related to these locations. This is the case particularly in terms of environmental studies and to a lesser extent anthropologically.
South Australia seems to have a progressive repatriation system in place where a small collection such as this SANT Collections can be researched for the purpose of repatriation. Such research can be long and complicated (especially for larger collections) but it is only the first step in the repatriation process.
With the information identified within this report, particularly that of the Indigenous communities identified and repatriation options identified, communication should definitively be initiated with the Antakirinja, Kokatha, Andyamathanha and Bunganditj peoples. It is more difficult for the artefacts sourced from the South Australian Desert and Coongie Lakes, but perhaps communication should be organised with the Coongie Lakes Visitor Centre and/or the Wadlata Outback Interpretative Centre for these locations.
In mid-September I visited the South Australian Museum Archives to locate images that were to be used on the interpretive signage at Ngaut Ngaut. This aspect of the project was also approved by the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Inc. (MACAI). Dr Amy Roberts had given me some ideas as to what to look for and I had a list of index numbers that corresponded to relevant archive collections. Throughout the process of content creation Amy had found a few images that she wanted to use on the signs. The problem was that these copies had very low resolutions. My archives visit was aimed at finding the original images and organising high-quality 600 dpi copies of the photographs and field book sketches.
I have just concluded my directed study project which was focused on researching a new methodology for the indirect detection of unmarked burial sites using ground penetrating radar. Being responsible for researching and writing up a larger sized project, and drawing on various sources for literature including interstate collections has been a valuable learning experience. However the most rewarding experience has been the opportunity to be involved in undertaking research with important implications for locating the burial location of a significant Indigenous historical figure.