Tag Archives: South Australian Museum

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!

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!).

Photography with Tindale

By Adrian Fenech, Graduate Diploma, Archaeology student

This practicum involves working in the South Australian Museum Science Centre adding new indexed information to the online archives. I am analysing photographic slides taken by the well-known Australian ethnographer Norman Tindale.  Tindale travelled around Australia documenting Aboriginal languages, clan or language group territories and material culture (Tindale 1974: 121 and 164). The indexed information I document will be made available to the public. However, some access limitations exist in relation to the materials listed in the index mostly due to cultural sensitivity provisions.

The 35mm photographic slides were taken by Norman Tindale on his many trips around Australia and elsewhere. The information regarding these slides will be available in the online archives and will include information such as the location and a description of the slide subject. These slides can be useful for research purposes, either general interest or academic because the slides can be linked to one of Tindale’s numerous journals. They can also be of great interest to Indigenous communities who may be the subject of the photographs.

Entering slides into the database

As noted above, not all slides will be available in the archive because some were removed by various Aboriginal representatives due to the fact that they contained sensitive cultural material. A few other slides are still physically in the material archives but have been labelled as restricted. Some indexing information has, however, been allowed on the online archive, at least enough to give a general idea of the slide, for example when and where the photograph was taken.

You can look through the Tindale Archives at:

http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/archives/collections

References

Tindale, N.B. 1974, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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!

Anthropological Society of South Australia launches “Grave Concerns”

A crowd of enthusiasts gathered at the Royal Society Room at the South Australian Museum on Wednesday 15th December to enjoy a glass of champagne and hear Dr Kathryn Powell talk about her new book, Grave Concerns:  Locating and Unearthing Human Bodies (2010, Australian Academic Press).

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