Australian archaeology

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Australian archaeology is a large sub-field in the discipline of archaeology. Archaeology in Australia takes three main forms, Aboriginal archaeology (the archaeology of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia before and after 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 and Torres Strait Islander sites, historical sites and maritime sites.

Archaeology, or archeology, is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts and cultural landscapes. Archaeology can be considered both a social science and a branch of the humanities. In North America archaeology is a sub-field of anthropology, while in Europe it is often viewed as either a discipline in its own right or a sub-field of other disciplines.

Historical archaeology is a form of archaeology dealing with places, things, and issues from the past or present when written records and oral traditions can inform and contextualize cultural material. These records can both complement and conflict with the archaeological evidence found at a particular site. Studies focus on literate, historical-period societies as opposed to non-literate, prehistoric societies. While they may not have generated the records, the lives of people for whom there was little need for written records, such as the working class, slaves, indentured labourers, and children but who live in the historical period can also be the subject of study. The sites are found on land and underwater. Industrial archaeology, unless practiced at industrial sites from the prehistoric era, is a form of historical archaeology concentrating on the remains and products of industry and the Industrial era.

Maritime archaeology archaeological study of human interaction with the sea

Maritime archaeology is a discipline within archaeology as a whole that specifically studies human interaction with the sea, lakes and rivers through the study of associated physical remains, be they vessels, shore-side facilities, port-related structures, cargoes, human remains and submerged landscapes. A specialty within maritime archaeology is nautical archaeology, which studies ship construction and use.


Research and investigations

Archaeological studies or investigations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture in Australia have had many different agendas through time. Initial archaeological investigation was often focused on finding the oldest sites. By the 1970s, archaeological research was concerned with the environment and the way it impacted on humans. In the late 1970s cultural heritage management gained prominence, with the increasing demands by Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups for representation in archaeological research. At a research level the focus shifted to cultural change of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through time.

Currently, archaeological research places great importance on Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's viewpoints on the land and history of Australia. Consideration is given to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's 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 consensus that no human or closely related species evolved independently in Australia. This is because there have been no species of primate found in Australia, either in the present or 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.

Hominidae Family of mammals

The Hominidae, whose members are known as great apes or hominids, are a taxonomic family of primates that includes eight extant species in four genera: Pongo, the Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutan; Gorilla, the eastern and western gorilla; Pan, the common chimpanzee and the bonobo; and Homo, which includes modern humans and its extinct relatives, and ancestors, such as Homo erectus.

<i>Homo sapiens</i> Species of mammal

In taxonomy, Homo sapiens is the only extant human species. The name is Latin for "wise man" and was introduced in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus.

There is controversy over where the first Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 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 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Melanesians and Indians. However, the suggested date of 60,000 years ago for initial settlement is quite early when compared to other areas of the world. This may suggest that the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population derive 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.

Melanesians Broad ethnolinguistic classification

Melanesians are the predominant inhabitants of Melanesia. Most speak either one of the many Austronesian languages, especially in the Oceanic branch of Malayo-Polynesian, or one of the Papuan languages. Other languages spoken are the numerous creoles or pidgins in the region, such as Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, Solomon Islands Pijin, Bislama, and Papuan Malay. Melanesians occupy islands in a wide area from Eastern Indonesia to as far east as the islands of Vanuatu and Fiji.

India Country in South Asia

India, also known as the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh largest country by area and with more than 1.3 billion people, it is the second most populous country as well as the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the northeast; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, while its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

Holocene The current geological epoch, covering the last 11,700 years

The Holocene is the current geological epoch. It began approximately 11,650 cal years before present, after the last glacial period, which concluded with the Holocene glacial retreat. The Holocene and the preceding Pleistocene together form the Quaternary period. The Holocene has been identified with the current warm period, known as MIS 1. It is considered by some to be an interglacial period within the Pleistocene Epoch.

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 this timeframe is not seen as conclusive. Sunda and Sahul had a permanent water-crossing, meaning that the first Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had to make a crossing on the open sea (see Wallace Line).

New Guinea Island in the Pacific Ocean

New Guinea is a large island separated by a shallow sea from the rest of the Australian continent. It is the world's second-largest, after Greenland, covering a land area of 785,753 km2 (303,381 sq mi), and the largest wholly or partly within the Southern Hemisphere and Oceania.

Sundaland biogeographic region

Sundaland is a biogeographical region of Southeastern Asia corresponding to a larger landmass that was exposed throughout the last 2.6 million years during periods when sea levels were lower. It includes the Malay Peninsula on the Asian mainland, as well as the large islands of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra and their surrounding islands.

Wallace Line faunal boundary line separating the ecozones of Asia and Wallacea, a transitional zone between Asia and Australia

The Wallace Line or Wallace's Line is a faunal boundary line drawn in 1859 by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and named by English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, that separates the ecozones of Asia and Wallacea, a transitional zone between Asia and Australia. West of the line are found organisms related to Asiatic species; to the east, a mixture of species of Asian and Australian origin is present. Wallace noticed this clear division during his travels through the East Indies in the 19th century.

Sahul is important in that in the past Australia was not an isolated continent, but was joined with New Guinea (and Tasmania). 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 Western Australia

Rottnest Island is an island off the coast of Western Australia, located 18 kilometres (11 mi) west of Fremantle. A sandy, low-lying island formed on a base of aeolianite limestone, Rottnest is an A-class reserve, the highest level of protection afforded to public land. Together with Garden Island, Rottnest Island is a remnant of Pleistocene dune ridges.

Madjedbebe Ancient rock shelter in the Northern Territory of Australia

Madjedbebe is a sandstone rockshelter in Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located about 50 km from the coast, in the Traditional Lands of the Mirarr people. Although it is surrounded by the World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park, Madjedbebe itself is located within the Jabiluka Mineral Leasehold. Archaeological excavations have led researchers to suggest that Madjedbebe was first occupied by humans around 65,000 years ago. This is the oldest known site showing the presence of humans in Australia. This date sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans. More than 10,000 artefacts have been excavated from the shelter, including flaked stone artefacts, ground stone artefacts, animal bones, shellfish remains, fragments of ground ochre, charcoal, seeds and human burials. Some of these were buried more than 2.5 metres below the surface. Archaeobotanical investigations have demonstrated a clear exploitation of plant foods, including: seeds, tubers and pandanus nuts. Fuel wood was also sourced from a local eucalyptus and moonson vine thicket forest.

Devil's Lair is a single-chamber cave with a floor area of around 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft) that formed in a Quaternary dune limestone of the Leeuwin–Naturaliste Ridge, 5 km (3.1 mi) from the modern coastline of Western Australia. The stratigraphic sequence in the cave floor deposit consists of 660 cm (260 in) of sandy sediments, with more than 100 distinct layers, intercalated with flowstone and other indurated deposits. Excavations have been made in several areas of the cave floor. Since 1973, excavations have been concentrated in the middle of the cave, where 10 trenches have been dug. Archaeological evidence for intermittent human occupation extends down about 350 cm (140 in) to layer 30, with hearths, bone, and stone artefacts found throughout.

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 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people first settled on the northern coast, as this is the area closest to Asia. However, the actual spread of people and the settlement of the continent is debated, with three major models put forward:

Controversies in Aboriginal archaeology

Date of arrival

There is significant debate over the date of arrival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the Australian continent. Until the 1950s it was often believed that arrival of the first Aboriginal people was within the last 10,000 years. In the 1950s, the dates were extended 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 with Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania. The discovery and use of C14 dating extended the dating to 40,000 years at Lake Mungo, and this was the date most frequently given. However, more recently, the analysis of sea levels has shown that coastlines 40,000 years ago were not as exposed as they were 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. The submergence of the earliest sites of occupation due to rising sea levels has meant that the earliest archaeological signature may in fact represent occupation much later than the initial time of arrival. [9] The difficulty in establishing a date of arrival earlier than 50,000 years has been compounded by the widespread use of radiocarbon dating and the supposed "radiocarbon barrier" which establishes 40,000 years as a limit to which C14 dates can be easily and reliably extracted. [9] This limitation has prompted many archaeologists, including Rhys Jones and Alan Thorne, to include thermoluminescence dating methods in their studies of early occupation sites. It is argued that 60,000 to 70,000 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 100,000 to 120,000 years, but these dates are criticised on technical grounds and are not accepted by most scientists. A recent study by Eske Willesev of the University of Copenhagen, of the genome of an Aboriginal man from the Western Australian Goldfields confirms that the Aboriginal population separated from the early human stock 70,000 years ago, in Africa or from Oman, and travelled fairly rapidly across south and south eastern Asia to arrive in Australia at least 50,000 years ago, before a second wave travelled into Europe and Asia, receiving some input from the Aboriginal people who had already made that journey. [10]

Rhys Maengwyn Jones was a Welsh-Australian archeologist.

Thermoluminescence dating

Thermoluminescence dating (TL) is the determination, by means of measuring the accumulated radiation dose, of the time elapsed since material containing crystalline minerals was either heated or exposed to sunlight (sediments). As a crystalline material is heated during measurements, the process of thermoluminescence starts. Thermoluminescence emits a weak light signal that is proportional to the radiation dose absorbed by the material. It is a type of luminescence dating.

Western Australia state in Australia

Western Australia is a state occupying the entire western third of Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east, and South Australia to the south-east. Western Australia is Australia's largest state, with a total land area of 2,529,875 square kilometres, and the second-largest country subdivision in the world, surpassed only by Russia's Sakha Republic. The state has about 2.6 million inhabitants – around 11 percent of the national total – of whom the vast majority live in the south-west corner, 79 per cent of the population living in the Perth area, leaving the remainder of the state sparsely populated.

Multiple arrivals

Earlier anthropologists believed that there were "three waves" of arrival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Australia, the first being the "negrito" Tasmanian people, who were displaced by "Murrayans", who in turn were considered to be displaced by "Carpentarians". These theories were sometimes advocated to disprove the Aboriginal claim to being the indigenous "first peoples". The fact that modern Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 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 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Today it is thought that Aboriginal people throughout the continent are descendants of an original founder population, although this does not completely exclude some contribution from later arrivals.

For example, on the basis of genomic analysis, it has been found that 4–500 years ago a small band from the Indian sub-continent travelled to northern Australia and contributed to the genome of people living in the north. At that time the appearance of the backed blade tradition, the dingo and other cultural features have been attributed to the arrivals. [11] Nevertheless, it now appears that rather than a connection with the Indian pariah dogs, as previously thought, the dingo shows a greater connection to the dogs of East Asia, and the genetic bottleneck through which they passed may have been due to a single pregnant female, introduced through Austronesian connections 5,000 years ago. [12]

Megafauna extinction

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 Australia. [13]

The extent and causes of the Australian megafaunal extinction—generally placed in the Late Pleistocene—continues as an active debate and is a preoccupation among archaeologists and palaeontologists 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. 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 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 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. The overkill hypothesis is largely discredited (and 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 sites of Cuddie Springs in New South Wales, and Keilor in Victoria, display some evidence of associations between Aboriginal stone tools and megafauna remains, but do not prove conclusively the overkill theory. Furthermore, the coexistence of Aboriginal populations with the megafauna tends to contradict the overkill hypothesis. [14] These writers suggest "threshold (for megafauna dieoff) was crossed between 26,000 and 15,000 yr B.P. when the arid area expanded further than usual and water resources in the woodland areas were severely reduced", although this finding is disputed by Roberts et al. [15] [16] It is clear from paleobotanical and palaeontological evidence that the extinction coincided with great environmental change. The high-resolution chronology of the changes supports the hypothesis that human hunting alone eliminated the megafauna, and that the subsequent change in flora was most likely a consequence of the elimination of browsers and an increase in fire. [17] [18] [19]

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.

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. [20] However, this claim has been criticised, largely due to the process used to analyse the skull and the claims regarding the dating and the mtDNA found. [21] Most people suggest that the age of the specimen is approximately 40,000 years. Sensitivities to handling Aboriginal remains means that specimens are not available for further research, so reassessment of the date awaits the development of appropriate ethical protocols.

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 is derived from a 1990s debate about the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and whether large social/economic change was caused by environmental factors (see Environmental determinism ), or from factors within the society. [22] [23] The predominant view at the time held that in the case of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 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 better explained as an artefact of archaeological research and conflation of independent events, by environmental factors, large population growth, technological change, or post-depositional factors.

The cultivation question

Kent Flannery's model [24] of the broad spectrum revolution in which foragers diversified the types of food sources harvested, broadening their subsistence base outward to include more fish, small game, water fowl, invertebrates likes snails and shellfish, as well as previously ignored or marginal plant sources, would seem to apply to Australian hunters and gatherers. These changes were linked to climatic changes, including sea level rises during the Flandrian transgression in which:

  1. Conditions became more inviting to marine life offshore in shallow, warm waters.
  2. Quantity and variety of marine life increased drastically as did the number of edible species.
  3. Because the rivers' power weakened with rising waters, and the creation of many estuaries, the currents flowing into the ocean were slow enough to allow fish to ascend upstream to spawn.
  4. Birds found refuge next to riverbeds in marsh grasses and then proceeded to migrate to different habitats.

Aboriginal people had a good understanding of local ecologies, and harvested many varieties of plants and animals in season. W.E.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 beaten towards a creek, where they were killed with spears and sticks. [25] Animals were also driven towards set nets and fish traps were common. [26]

The degree to which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the Australian continent practised agriculture has long been debated by archaeologists. Earlier it was believed that Australian Aboriginal people were ignorant of the principles of agriculture, but this has since been disproven. For instance, Australian 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 1844 expedition to northwest New South Wales and central Australia reports seeing large haystacks built by Aboriginal people of seed crops. This was located east of Depot Glen Milparinka about 600 km from the Murray River. 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 land use 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 who cannot be supported from outside their community. Australian Aboriginal people found that 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. Evidence of cultivation at Kuk in Papua New Guinea, from about 10–12,000 years BP (at a time when that island was joined to Australia, suggests crop raising was possible in the Sahul supercontinent when conditions were favourable.

Historical archaeology in Australia

Historical archaeology is the study of the past through material remains such as artefacts (i.e. objects), structures (e.g. standing and ruined buildings, fences, roads), features (e.g. ditches, mounds, canals, landfill), and even whole landscapes modified by human activity and their spatial and stratigraphic contexts.

The origins of historical archaeology in Australia are generally held to lie in archaeological investigations by the late William (Bill) Culican at Fossil Beach in Victoria, in Jim Allen's PhD research at Port Essington in the Northern Territory and in Judy Birmingham's work at Irrawang Pottery in the Hunter Valley of NSW. An increasingly important area of Australian historical archaeology studies the interaction between European and other settlers, and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Underwater and maritime archaeology in Australia

Underwater archaeology is archaeology practised in a submerged environment. It encompasses the pre-historic and historic eras. Maritime archaeology (the study of humans and their activities in, on, around and under the seas, rivers and estuaries) and Nautical archaeology, (the specialised study of boat and ship construction) are allied sub-disciplines of archaeology as a whole. Often the sites or relics are not inundated, however. Of late these various studies have progressed into the industrial and post-war eras. In mirroring their terrestrial roots, underwater archaeology, maritime and nautical archaeology can now include the examination of a wide range of sites ranging from the indigenous through to industrial archaeology and of late the study of wartime and post-war sites, including historic submerged aircraft. Better known as a sub-discipline of aviation archaeology, underwater aviation archaeology is arguably the most recent offshoot of underwater archaeology, having developed its theoretical underpinnings and a substantial corpus of fieldwork, research and publication work in the late 1990s. Maritime archaeology, the first of these sub-disciplines to emerge in Australia, commenced under the aegis of Jeremy Green in the 1970s after concerns were expressed by academics and politicians over the rampant destruction of Dutch and British East Indian ships lost on the west coast. After Commonwealth legislation was enacted and enforced after 1976 and the States enacted their own legislation the sub-discipline spread throughout Australia, as a result of on-going funding by both the States and the Commonwealth. While also encompassing the study of port-related structures (e.g. jetties, anchorages), lighthouses, moorings, defences etc., initially the focus in maritime archaeology was solely on shipwrecks. [27] Now far broader in its scope, in some states maritime and underwater archaeology is managed by museums and in others by cultural heritage management units. There are also numerous practitioners in private practice, or acting as consultants. Regardless, all practitioners operate under the aegis of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA). [28]

Cultural heritage management

Commercial or consulting archaeology (also termed cultural heritage management) only developed in earnest in Australia from the 1970s, with the advent of various state legislation requiring approvals for damage or disturbance to archaeological relics, such as the Aboriginal and Archaeological Relics Preservation Act 1972, in Victoria. The Victoria Archaeological Survey was established from the Relics Office in 1975. Historical Archaeology is generally protected by separate legislation, such as the New South Wales Heritage Act 1977, and the various other state counterparts.

Cultural Heritage Management for archaeological sites is seen in the context of wider heritage issues, and follows the principles set out in the Burra Charter or the Australia ICOMOS charter for the conservation of places of cultural significance.

From a handful of practitioners in the '70s, there are now more than 250 commercially based archaeologists in Australia. Again in Victoria, one of the first to establish was du Cros and associates (later absorbed by Biosis Research, renamed Biosis Pty Ltd in 2012). The Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologist Inc. (AACAI) is the professional body established in 1979 with presently about 50 full members. In New South Wales, companies such as Casey and Lowe and GML have specialised in large scale historical archaeological salvage.

Consultancy archaeology is primarily driven by development, and so is often at the centre of controversy over ownership of heritage and in particular the conflicting objectives of conservation and development. Aboriginal communities often ascribe a special significance to the places where archaeological remains have been found.

Protection and management of archaeology in Australia is controlled by Federal and State Government legislation including the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the various state archaeological legislation such as Victoria's Heritage Act 1995 (covering historical archaeology) and the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. Several states maintain archaeological site inventories as the main management tool. The principle of most forms of archaeological legislation in Australia is to provide blanket protection for all archaeological remains and sites, whether or not they have been recorded, and use a system of permits and consents to control change to those sites. for Aboriginal archaeological sites, there is often a requirement for consultation with traditional owners, and they sometimes have a role in approving works that impact on archaeological sites.

Native title and land rights

Native title is formalised under The Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 which establishes a framework for the protection and recognition of native title. The Australian legal system recognises native title where:

Notable Australian archaeologists

This is an abbreviated list of Australian archaeologists who have made a notable contribution to the development of the subject of Australian archaeology.

Professional societies in Australian archaeology

The Australian Archaeological Association is one of the largest and oldest organisations devoted to furthering archaeology of all types within Australia.

The Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) founded as the Australian Society for Historical Archaeology in 1970. Its aims were, and still are, to promote the study of historical archaeology in Australia.

The Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. was founded in 1979 and aims to promote and represent professional archaeologists.

The Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria (AASV) is predominantly a non-professional organisation, which was formed in 1976 in through the amalgamation of two earlier societies, the Anthropological Society of Victoria formed in 1934, and the Archaeological Society of Victoria formed in 1964. [29]


General books

Flood, Josephine, 2010. Archaeology of the dreamtime: the story of prehistoric Australia and its people. Revised edition. Marleston: Gecko Books.

Frankel, David, 1991. Remains to be seen: archaeological insights into Australian prehistory. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.

Frankel, David, 2017. Between the Murray and the sea: Aboriginal archaeology in south-eastern Australia. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Hiscock, Peter, 2008. Archaeology of ancient Australia. Abingdon: Routledge.

Holdaway, Simon and Nicola Stern, 2004. A record in stone: the study of Australia’s flaked stone artefacts. Melbourne: Museum Victoria and Aboriginal Studies Press.

Mulvaney, John and Johan Kamminga, 1999. Prehistory of Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Mulvaney, John and J. Peter White, (eds), 1987. Australians to 1788. Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon.

Lourandos, Harry, 1997. A continent of hunter-gatherers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


The principal academic journals publishing on Australian archaeology in Australia, are: Australian Archaeology , Archaeology in Oceania , The Artefact , Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, and Australasian Historical Archaeology , while some history focused journals such as History Australia also feature Australian archaeology related topics. [30] Several international journals such as Nature , Journal of Archaeological Science , Science , Antiquity and the International Journal of Historical Archaeology , often publish articles on Australian archaeology.

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<i>Diprotodon</i> genus of mammals

Diprotodon, meaning "two forward teeth", is the largest known marsupial to have ever lived. Along with many other members of a group of species collectively known as the "Australian megafauna", it existed from approximately 1.6 million years ago until extinction some 46,000 years ago.

<i>Genyornis</i> genus of birds

Genyornis newtoni was a large, flightless bird that lived in Australia. Over two metres in height, they were likely either omnivorous or herbivorous. They became extinct 30±5 thousand years ago. Many other species became extinct in Australia around that time, coinciding with the arrival of humans. Their closest living relatives are fowl.

Torres Strait Islands archipelago north of Australia

The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands which lie in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern continental Australia's Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea.

Torres Strait Islanders ethnic group

Torres Strait Islanders ( ) are the indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, part of Queensland, Australia. They are distinct from the Aboriginal people of the rest of Australia, and are generally referred to separately. There are also two Torres Strait Islander communities on the nearby coast of the mainland at Bamaga and Seisia.

Bradshaw rock paintings

The Gwion Gwion paintings, Bradshaw rock paintings, Bradshaw rock art, Bradshaw figures or The Bradshaws, are terms used to describe one of the two major regional traditions of rock art found in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia. The identity of who painted these figures and the age of the art are contended within archaeology and amongst Australian rock art researchers. These aspects have been debated since the works were first discovered and recorded by pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw in 1891, after whom they were named. As the Kimberley is home to various Aboriginal language groups, the rock art is referred to and known by many different Aboriginal names, the most common of which are Gwion Gwion or Giro Giro. The art consists primarily of human figures ornamented with accessories such as bags, tassels and headdresses.

Australian megafauna

Australian megafauna comprises a number of large animal species in Australia, often defined as species with body mass estimates of greater than 45 kg (100 lb) or equal to or greater than 130% of the body mass of their closest living relatives. Many of these species became extinct during the Pleistocene.

Fire-stick farming was the practice of Indigenous Australians who regularly used fire to burn vegetation to facilitate hunting and to change the composition of plant and animal species in an area. Fire-stick farming had the long-term effect of turning dry forest into savannah, increasing the population of nonspecific grass-eating species like the kangaroo. One theory of the extinction of Australian megafauna implicates the ecological disturbance caused by fire-stick farming.

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Lake Mungo lake

Lake Mungo is a dry lake located in New South Wales, Australia. It is about 760 km due west of Sydney and 90 km north-east of Mildura. The lake is the central feature of Mungo National Park, and is one of seventeen lakes in the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region. Many important archaeological findings have been made at the lake, most significantly the discovery of the remains of Mungo Man, the oldest human remains found in Australia, Mungo Woman, the oldest human remains in the world to be ritually cremated and as the location of the Lake Mungo geomagnetic excursion, the first convincing evidence that Geomagnetic excursions are a geomagnetic phenomenon rather than sedimentological.

Aboriginal Australians term used to refer to some groups of Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Australian is a collective term for all the indigenous peoples from the Australian mainland and Tasmania. This group contains many separate cultures that have developed in the various environments of Australia for more than 50,000 years. These peoples have a broadly shared, though complex, genetic history, but it is only in the last two hundred years that they have been defined and started to self identify as a single group. The exact definition of the term Aboriginal Australian has changed over time and place, with the importance of family lineage, self identification and community acceptance all being of varying importance. In the past Aboriginal Australians also lived over large sections of the continental shelf and were isolated on many of the smaller offshore islands, once the land was inundated at the start of the inter-glacial. However, they are distinct from the Torres Strait Islander people, despite extensive cultural exchange.

Cuddie Springs is a notable archaeological and paleontological site in the semi-arid zone of central northern New South Wales, Australia. Cuddie Springs is an open site, with the fossil deposits preserved in a claypan on the floor of an ancient ephemeral lake. The claypan fills with water after local rainstorms and often takes months to dry, a fact which facilitated the survival of fossils over a long period of time.

History of Indigenous Australians

The History of Indigenous Australians began at least 65,000 years ago when humans first populated Australia.

The Lancefield Swamp is a rich fossil deposit from the Pleistocene epoch was discovered in the 19th century near Lancefield, Victoria, Australia.

Indigenous Australians are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before British colonisation. The time of arrival of the first Indigenous Australians is a matter of debate among researchers. The earliest conclusively human remains found in Australia are those of Mungo Man LM3 and Mungo Lady, which have been dated to around 50,000 years BP. Recent archaeological evidence from the analysis of charcoal and artefacts revealing human use suggests a date as early as 65,000 BP. Luminescence dating has suggested habitation in Arnhem Land as far back as 60,000 years BP. Genetic research has inferred a date of habitation as early as 80,000 years BP. Other estimates have ranged up to 100,000 years and 125,000 years BP.

The Lake Mungo remains are three prominent sets of Aboriginal Australian human remains: Lake Mungo 1, Lake Mungo 3, and Lake Mungo 2 (LM2). Lake Mungo is in New South Wales, Australia, specifically the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region.

The Keilor archaeological site was among the first places to demonstrate the antiquity of Aboriginal occupation of Australia when a cranium, unearthed in 1940, was found to be nearly 15,000 years old. Subsequent investigations of Pleistocene alluvial terraces revealed hearths about 31,000 years BP, making Keilor one of the earliest sites of human habitation in Australia. Remains of megafauna suggest a possible association with Aboriginal hunting.

Harry Lourandos is an Australian archaeologist, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology, School of Arts and Social Sciences at James Cook University, Cairns. He is a leading proponent of the theory that a period of hunter-gatherer intensification occurred between 3000 and 1000 BCE.

Dr Jillian Maree Garvey is an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award Fellow in Archaeology, specialising in late Quaternary Australian Indigenous Archaeology, at La Trobe University, Melbourne (Bundoora). As an adjunct to her research, Garvey teaches undergraduate courses and supervises Honours and Higher Degree in Research (HDR) level, including Archaeology Field School, at La Trobe University. Garvey is a Registered Cultural Heritage Advisor (CHA) with the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (OAAV) and a current member of the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA); International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ); Australasian Quaternary Association (AQUA) and The Royal Society of Victoria (RSV). Her research interests include Australian Aboriginal Archaeology, Experimental Archaeology, Landscape Archaeology, Late Pleistocene and Holocene Palaeoecology and Zooarchaeology and she is a specialist in the taphonomic identification of animal bones and invertebrate fauna.

The Unduyamo (Andooyomo) were an indigenous Australian people who once lived around the northern shore of Newcastle Bay, Cape York Peninsula Queensland. It has been hypothesized that, among other aspects of their life, they functioned as religious specialists for Torres Strait Islanders, whose mastery of increase rituals attracted the native mariners from the north. Together with the Gudang, who apparently spoke the same language and whose territory ran from Cape York to Fly Point opposite Pabaju, the Unduyamo had strong cultural, kin and trade ties with the Kaurareg, the southwestern islanders centered around Muralag, with whom they enjoyed an alliance that permitted reciprocal residence on each other's territory. All three groups regarded the Yadhaigana and Gumakudin as hostile.

Sahul was a prehistoric continent that consisted of Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania and Seram.


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