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.

The project is located within an area rich with historic and pre-invasion heritage including the remains of a ration depot previously attached to the residence of the States’ 1st. Sub Protector of Aborigines as well as an old burial ground. Throughout the project we are working under the direction of Karpinyeri Inc. Assoc. members Muriel Van Der Byl AM and her son David as well as Julianne and Eddy Jakaitis.

Using the dumpy

All those hours of learning the dumpy finally got good use in the field

Our work has the following aims:

  • To continue to build on relationships that began at a 3 day workshop on mapping, navigation and lithic analysis  at Kingston SE in Sept. 2009 that was run by Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division, Department  of Premier and Cabinet;
  • To continue to engage in the transfer of site survey and site recording skills to the local community which was begun at the above workshop.
  • To employ a suite of non-invasive techniques including Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and magnetometer surveys to attempt to locate other burials outside of the present fence line.
  • To accurately map the existing burial ground and the marked graves within it.
  • To attempt to locate by archival research and pedestrian survey two caves in the vicinity of the burial ground.
  • To carry out oral history interviews (subject to university ethics approval) with Muriel Van Der Byl AM.
  • To give the students the experience of working on an archaeological project where they can sharpen their field skills, learn new ones and learn  the art of working as part of a group, all at the same time.

Marranggung, via Tailem Bend (top right)

The satellite image above shows the present burial ground at Marranggung as a faint rectangle running east to west in the middle of the yellow circle. The eastern most corner of the burial ground is approximately 100m from the Murray, the last 65m of which is a 45 degree slope composed of soft degrading limestone. The white line adjacent to the Murray shows the top of the slope.

The stratigraphy of the slope is marked and gives a good indication of sub surface geology. This consists of a surface of aeolian derived sand dunes up to 2 metres in height. Below this at a depth of 1.5 metres lies a hard layer of calcite which is 30 cm thick. A softer limestone extends below this hard layer for at least 3 metres. We are optimistic about our ability to penetrate the surface sand with the GPR as we will be virtually replicating a similar project carried out last month (in dry sand) at a burial ground at Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land by Dr Sally May. She obtained excellent results with the same equipment in very similar conditions.

At the moment we plan to be back on the Murray sometime in September. On our next visit we aim to use the GPR to ascertain whether any graves lie outside the present perimeter and to finish our plan of the burial ground with the aid of the Total Station.

I want to say thank you very much to Auntie Muriel, her son David and Julianne and Eddy on behalf of all of us, for such a deadly weekend.

stay tuned for the results of our labours…

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