Australian archaeology

Australian archaeology

Australian Archaeology is a large sub-field in the discipline of Archaeology. Archaeology in Australia takes three main forms, Aboriginal Archaeology (the archaeology of Aborigines and Australia before European Settlement), Historical Archaeology (the archaeology of Australia after European Settlement) and Maritime Archaeology. Bridging these sub-disciplines is the important concept of Cultural Heritage Management which encompasses Aboriginal, Historical and Maritime sites.

Aboriginal archaeology

The Archaeology focusing on Aborigines in Australia has had many different predominant agendas through time. The earliest form of archaeology was largely focused on finding the oldest sites. By the 1970s, archaeology largely focused on the environment and they way it impacted on humans. In the late 1970s, Cultural Heritage Management gained prominence with the increasing demands by Aboriginal groups for representation in archaeological research. At a research level the focus shifted to cultural change of Aborigines through time.

Currently, archaeological research places great importance on Aboriginal viewpoints of the land and history of Australia. Consideration is given to the Aboriginal belief that archaeological sites are not just capsules of the past but a continuation from the past to the present. Therefore, at a research level significance is placed on the past but also on the importance of the present.

The First Settlement of Australia is a popular research topic both in archaeology and in the public arena. There is a consensus that no human or closely related species evolved independently in Australia. This is suggested because there are no species of primate to be found in Australia, both at present and in the fossil record. It is therefore assumed that the first settlers of Australia came from outside. At present the fossil record suggests that the first settlers were "Homo sapiens", or fully modern humans.

There is controversy as to where the Aborigines originated. Both of the two main theories postulate that the first settlers were fully modern humans. Asian Genetic studies have demonstrated that there are similarities between Aborigines, Melanesians and Indians. However, the early suggested date of 60, 000 years ago for initial settlement is quite early when compared to other areas in the world. This may suggest that the Aborigine population derives from an early African population which migrated along the south coast of Asia, at a much faster rate than other populations migrating across the continents of the Holocene.

The first settlement of Australia most likely occurred during the last glacial maximum. During this time Australia and New Guinea were joined as a single land mass called Sahul. The south-east Asian continent and islands were also joined as a single land mass called Sunda. It is theorised that the first Australians crossed the sea between Sahul and Sunda about 60,000 to 40,000 years ago. Other dates have been suggested, and these results are not seen as definite conclusions. Sunda and Sahul had a permanent water-crossing, meaning that the first Aborigines had to make a crossing on the open sea (see Wallace Line).

Sahul is important in that in the past Australia was not an isolated continent, but was joined with New Guinea. As such, New Guinea has also been the focus of archaeological investigations by Australian researchers.

The most important early sites in Australia are:
* Rottnest Island (70,000 years old)
* Nauwalabila (55,000 - 60,000 years old)
* Malakanunja (45,000 - 61,000 years old)
* Devil's Lair (45,000 years old)
* Lake Mungo (61,000 or 40,000 years old) - controversy exists over precise dating (see below)It is important to note that the change in sea levels means that the first settlements located on the coast would have been submerged.

With the settlement of Australia, it is most probable that the Aborigines first settled on the northern coast, as this area closest to Asia. However, the actual spread of people and the settlement of the continent is largely debated with three major models put forward:
* Concentric dispersal through the entire continent through one single "entry" point.
* Coastal dispersal by spreading along the coast line and later entering inland areas, mainly via the major waterways.
* Fluctuating colonisation in and out of different environmental zones. For example, in plentiful years the population would be in semi-arid regions, but in drought would move to areas with better resources.

Controversies in Aboriginal archaeology

Date of arrival

There is significant debate over the date of arrival of Aboriginal people into the Australian continent. Until the 1950s it was often believed that arrival of the first Aboriginal people was the last 10,000 years. In the 1950s, the dates were extended back to the last Ice Age, based upon falling sea-levels at that period and the existence of landbridges linking the islands of the Sunda Shelf and the Sahul Continental Shelf linking Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania. The discovery and use of C14 dating extended the dates to 40,000 at Lake Mungo, and this is often the dates most frequently found. However, more recently, the analysis of sea levels has shown that coastlines 40,000 years ago were not as exposed as they were 70-60,000 years ago, and it is argued that 40,000 years is the limit to which C14 dates can be easily and reliably extracted. It is also argued that a separation of 70-60,000 years best fits the evidence from the Human genome diversity project, and a number of other new dating technologies. Some have proposed dates extending back to 100-120,000 years, but these dates are criticised on technical grounds and are not accepted by most scientists.

Multiple arrivals

Earlier anthropologists believed that there were "three waves" of arrival of Aboriginal people, the first being of "negrito" Tasmanian people, who were displaced by "Murrayans", and these in turn were considered to be displaced by "Carpentarians". These theories were sometimes advocated in order to disprove the Aboriginal claim to being the indigenous "first peoples". The fact that modern Aborigines cannot explain the Bradshaw figures of North Western Australia, was also seen as evidence of displacement of earlier peoples by later arrivals. The finding of a robust skeleton with surprisingly so-called "primitive" features at Kow Swamp, was also advocated as proof of an earlier wave of settlers to the continent. Dating of the Kow Swamp material, however, showed that rather than being earlier, it was in fact a lot more recent than the nearby Mungo gracile skeletons that more closely resembled modern Aborigines. Today it is thought that Aboriginal people throughout the continent are descendents of an original founder population, although this does not completely exclude some contribution from later arrivals.

Megafauna extinction

The extent and causes of the Australian megafaunal extinction—generally placed in the Late Pleistocene—continues as an active debate and preoccupation among archaeologists and paleontologists working in the Australian scene. Besides ongoing attempts to refine the dating and extent of the extinction event(s), much research is actively directed towards establishing whether, or to what extent, anthropogenic effects played a part in the disappearance of dozens of species of large-bodied animals formerly inhabiting the continent. Central to this question is a determination of how long humans and the megafauna species coexisted with each other. Many factors have been considered as possible causes of the extinction, ranging from environmental variables to entirely human-based activity.

The most extreme theory is that Aborigines were completely responsible for the extinction of these animals through extensive hunting. This theory is largely based on the Overkill Hypothesis of the Americas, where hunters travelled through the land exterminating megafauna. This Overkill Hypothesis is largely discredited (not just in Australia), as there have been no confirmed discoveries of kill sites, sites that are found in other contexts around the world and associated with Megafauna hunting. The site of Cuddie Springs in New South Wales, does display some evidence of the hunting of these animals, but it is an isolated site and could not prove conclusively the overkill theory.

It is clear from paleobotanical and palaeontological evidence that the extinction coincided with great environmental change. Approximately 18,000 to 7,000 years ago, many societies around the world underwent significant change; in particular, this time marks the rise of agriculture in many Neolithic societies. In the Australian context environmental change did not give rise to the development of agriculture but it may have contributed to the disappearance of populations of animals made even more vulnerable to depletion through hunting and marginalised grazing.

Some researchers, such as Tim Flannery, have put forward the idea that human settlement was responsible for the large climatic and environmental changes that occurred in Neolithic Australia.

Lake Mungo dating

Arguably the oldest human remains in Australia, the Lake Mungo 3 skull was given the age of 60,000 years by Gregory Adcock and his researchers. cite journal |last=Adcock |first=G. |authorlink= |coauthors= "et al." |year=2001 |month= |title=Mitochondrial DNA sequences in ancient Australians: Implications for modern human origins |journal= PNAS |volume= 98 |issue= 2 |pages=537–542 |doi= |url= |accessdate=|quote= ] However, this claim has come under criticism largely due to the process used to analyse the skull and the claims regarding the dating and the mtDNA found Brown, Peter. (2005). [ Lake Mungo 3] . Retrieved Jan. 9, 2006] . Most people suggest that the age of the specimen is approximately 40,000 years. The problem with this particular specimen is that all research is done on pre-existing samples as the original specimen has been reburied. Problems, such as contamination, cannot be rectified without exhuming the remains.

The intensification debate

The idea of intensification was put forward by a number of archaeologists, but the most prominent in developing the idea was Harry Lourandos.Intensification is an idea that posits that change in economic systems of peoples is controlled by social changes. This means that change can occur without an external force such as environmental change. The idea derived from a debate about the Tasmanian Aborigines and whether large social/economic change was caused by environmental factors (see "Environmental determinism"), or from factors within the society Lourandos, Harry. Ross, Anne. (1994). "The Great 'Intensification Debate': Its history and place in Australian Archaeology." "Australian Archaeology" 39 54-63.] Lourandos, Harry. (1997). "Continent of Hunter-Gatherers". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-35946-5] . The predominant view at the time held that in the case of the Aborigines any social change was largely influenced by external, largely environmental, factors.

The evidence that supports this idea is that sites at approximately the same time (around 4,000 years ago) experienced increased usage. This is supported by increased site numbers, increased artefact density and an expansion into new environments. This evidence has also been explained by environmental factors, large population growth, technological change, or even post-depositional factors.

The cultivation question

The degree to which Aboriginal people on the Australian continent practiced agriculture has long been debated by archaeologists. Earlier it was believed that Aboriginal people were ignorant of the principles of agriculture, but this has since been disproven. For instance, Aboriginal women in traditional societies often transplanted immature "bush tucker" plants found growing in unfavourable locations to more favourable spots. There were also a number of plants (particularly seeds and roots) that could have lent themselves to cultivation, and were used in making such foods as damper. Charles Sturt in his exploration of the Murray River reports seeing large hay stacks built by Aboriginal people of seed crops harvested at the beginning of summer. Firestick farming has also always been a technique used by Aboriginal people to open the canopy of closed canopy forests, introducing sunlight to the ground, and prompting germination of a number of foodstuffs known to attract kangaroo and other marsupials. This would encourage a more intensive landuse than otherwise. But the main reason for the lack of agriculture in Australia is the extreme variability of the climate. Australia is the only continent on Earth, which, as a result of the El Nino Southern Oscillation, experiences greater variability between years than it does between the seasons. Such climatic variability makes farming very difficult, especially for incipient farmers, unable to be supported from outside of their community. Australian Aboriginal people found, by maintaining stable populations below the effective carrying capacity of the environment, would enable an adequate supply of food, even in drought years, so maintaining a stable culture. This made hunting and gathering a more sustainable activity on the Australian continent than neolithic farming.

WE Roth talks about driving kangaroos into a 3 sided enclosure of nets "with the assistance of numerous beaters". Wallabies and emus were also caught in a similar way. Wallaroos were hunted with fire and beating towards a creek, where they were killed with spears and sticks Roth WE Food: Its Search, Capture and Preparation: North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin No.3 1901.] . Animals were also driven towards set nets Davis G (Nungabana) The Mullunburra: people of the Mulgrave River. Cassowary Publications. 2001] .

Historical archaeology in Australia

Historical archaeology is the archaeology of colonisation and the growth of capitalist economies in the post-medieval period. In the Australian context, it is largely the archaeology of Europeans who are the most significant ethnic influence in Australia prior to the present day. Historical archaeology also focuses on other ethnic groups who have made an impact on the material record, such as the Chinese, Macassarese and Melanesians. An increasingly important area of Australian historical archaeology studies the interaction between European and other settlers, and Aboriginal peoples.

The birth of historical archaeology in Australia is generally held to lie in archaeological investigations by the late William (Bill) Culican at Fossil Beach in Victoria, by Jim Allens Ph.D. research at Port Essington in the Northern Territory and by Judy Birmingham's work at Irrawang Pottery in the Hunter Valley of NSW.

The oldest historical artefacts discovered in Australia are several Chinese coins, discovered in a cache found buried in Northern Queensland. The coins have been given dates of 1,300 years ago. [ [ The Premier of Queensland Trade Missions 1998 China] ] It is possible that they were brought to Australia by Chinese miners rather than being evidence of earlier Chinese settlement.Fact|date=February 2008

Maritime archaeology in Australia

The Tryal is the earliest known shipwreck in Australian waters. The English East India Company around April 1621 acquired this ship. It left for a voyage to the East Indies in September 4th 1621 under the command of Captain John Brookes. The ship sailed with a full cargo from Plymouth. The Tryal arrived at Cape Hope. Whilst here, The captain unsuccessfully tried to persuade the master mate to allow an East Indian man to accompany them as none of the ships officers had made the voyage from the Cape to the East Indies.

The vessel left the Cape of Good Hope on March 19th, 1622. Brookes sighted the Australian mainland in latitude 22° south, the region of North West Cape, on May 1st. North-Easterly winds for a time prevented Brookes from heading for Java, but on May 24th he was again moving north, past Barrow Island and the Montebello Island towards the uncharted reef which was eventually know as the Tryal Rocks. The Tryal struck this reef and sank thus becoming Australia’s earliest known shipwreck.

Cultural heritage management

Legal obligations in Australia

Native Title and Land Rights

The Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 establishes a framework for the protection and recognition of native title. The Australian legal system recognises native title where:
*the rights and interests are possessed under traditional laws and customs that continue to be acknowledged and observed by the relevant Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders
*by virtue of those laws and customs, the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders have a connection with the land or waters
*the native title rights and interests are recognised by the common law of Australia.

The Native Title Act sets up processes for determining where native title exists, how future activity impacting upon native title may be undertaken, and providing compensation where native title is impaired or extinguished. The Act gives Indigenous Australians who hold native title rights and interests, or who have made a native title claim, the right to be consulted on, and in some cases to participate in, decisions about activities proposed to be undertaken on the land. Indigenous Australians have been able to negotiate benefits for their communities, including in relation to employment opportunities and heritage protection.

The Native Title Act also establishes a framework for the recognition and operation of representative bodies that will provide services to native title claimants and native title holders. The Australian Government also provides significant funding to resolve native title issues in accordance with the Native Title Act 1993, including to native title representative bodies, the National Native Title Tribunal and the Federal Court.

Indigenous people and other groups with an interest in native title, including the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, miners and pastoralists are increasingly addressing native title issues by negotiation and agreement. Conclusion of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, which further enhance the consensus-based mechanisms available under the Act, and determinations of native title applications by consent are becoming more common, as familiarity with the provisions and processes of the Native Title Act increases.

Post-European settlement cultural heritage management

Important Australian archaeologists

*Val Attenbrow
*Jane Balme
*Graham Connah
*William (Bill) Culican
*Iain Davidson
*Vere Gordon Childe
*Betty Meehan
*Vincent Megaw
*Mike Morwood
*John Mulvaney
*Rhys Jones
*J. Peter White
*Isabel McBryde
*Harry Lourandos
*Sandra Bowdler
*Judy Birmingham
*Simon Holdaway
*Sharon Sullivan
*Richard Wright


External links

* [ Australian Archaeological Association]
* [ National Archaeology Week]

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