The arrival of Europeans in Australia heralded the establishment of new forms of farming reliant on a range of foreign domesticated plants and animals. More than any other colonial industry, farming transformed the continent’s environments, ecosystems, and Indigenous cultures. This chapter considers the history of the archaeology of agrarian Australia, and in particular the ways that Aboriginal people provided labour and knowledge. At the same time farming relied on Aboriginal peoples’ Country. Recent research highlights both the social and environmental dimensions of this history. Other work highlights how Aboriginal people managed landscapes in their own right, a fact also reported by some colonial observers. This management has the potential to highlight Aboriginal peoples’ agency and to offer ways to reconsider contemporary land management in an era increasingly concerned with the challenges of the Anthropocene.
Dylan Gaffney and Tim Denham
This article examines three key aspects of New Guinea Highlands prehistory, with important implications for regional and global archaeology, including evidence for (1) adaptive flexibility at high altitudes, particularly within montane rainforests and grasslands; (2) plant-food production and cultivation in the tropics; and (3) the emergence of incipient social stratification and how it was transformed by the production and redistribution of material culture, plants, and animals. After synthesizing the archaeological evidence, we propose that social transformations amongst highland groups were intraregionally variable and involved a sequential diversification of subsistence practices that overlapped and persisted through time. Because communities, and their sociotechnical practices, were differently interconnected across the mountains, and at times to the lowlands, coasts, and islands as well, each subregion transformed asymmetrically at different rates and scales through time. The high diversity of highland cultures observed in the early twentieth century by ethnographers is likely to have arisen from these asymmetric processes of growth.
Australia has myriad rock art places that have special significance to their many Indigenous owners and a heritage resource of outstanding universal value to all humankind. The appropriate management of those places involves particular heritage considerations because of the multiple layers of significance at stake. The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act of 1999, a federal instrument, defines the criteria for the recognition of national heritage values and forms the basis for identifying the most significant natural and cultural heritage places in Australia. This chapter provides a research-based management logic for including significant rock art places on Australia’s National Heritage List. This thematic approach, founded on current Australian rock art research, recognizes the thematic structure adopted by UNESCO in its assessment of World Heritage Outstanding Universal Values, since there are logical synergies for synchronizing Australia’s National Heritage List with World Heritage Listing.
Aboriginal Australians use ochre in varied cultural practices. It is found in the earliest to most recent archaeological sites and geographically across the wide-ranging geological and climatic contexts of the continent. Ochre’s importance in Aboriginal societies, coupled with its availability across Australia and its long-term durability, has led to a ubiquitous archaeological presence with considerable potential to study past cultural landscapes and intergroup interactions, including long-distance trade and exchange. Concentrating on scientific sourcing analyses, this article highlights the benefits of archaeopigment research, defining key terms (ochre, provenience, and provenance) and the technicalities of sourcing studies before discussing theoretical frameworks used in interpretations of ochre distribution patterns. The article argues that as we move away from novel studies on ethnographically well-known source locations into applied research, exceptional Australian records are well placed to investigate territoriality, mobility, intergroup and human–landscape interactions, and to explore the catalysts driving cultural diversity.
Anne Ford and Peter Hiscock
Ground-edge artefacts (GEAs), also known as ground-edge axes, are an independent innovation that date to the earliest sites in Sahul (the continental landmass of Australia and New Guinea). During the Pleistocene, these tools were localized to the northern parts of the continent. Over time, significant changes took place in the distribution of GEAs, which became an almost continent-wide technology, with distinct regional variations in their form, production, and exchange patterns. This article explores the evolution of GEAs in Sahul, mapping the different trajectories in their production, use, and exchange, while also exploring the different roles that they may have played both socially and economically in their communities of use.
Behavioural inferences from Late Pleistocene Aboriginal Australia: seasonality, butchery, and nutrition in southwest Tasmania
Richard Cosgrove and Jillian Garvey
Detailed research into marsupial behavioural ecology and modelling of past Aboriginal exploitation of terrestrial fauna has been scarce. Poor bone preservation is one limiting factor in Australian archaeological sites, but so has been the lack of research concerning the ecology and physiology of Australia’s endemic fauna. Much research has focused on marine and fresh-water shell-fish found in coastal and inland midden sites. Detailed studies into areas such as seasonality of past human occupation and nutritional returns from terrestrial prey species have not had the same attention. This chapter reviews the current level of published Australian research into two aspects of faunal studies, seasonality and nutrition. It describes the patterns from well-researched faunal data excavated from the Ice Age sites in southwest Tasmania. Concentration is on the vertebrate fauna found in seven limestone cave sites to examine any temporal changes to seasonal butchery and identify any differences between seasonally occupied sites.
Joanna Fresløv and Russell Mullett
The High Country of the Australian Great Divide is a distinctive landscape that covers a large portion of southeastern Australia. After fifty years of research, we still know little about the nature and antiquity of Aboriginal archaeological sites and landscapes across the High Country. This article examines the archaeology of montane (1100–1400 m above sea level), subalpine (1400–1850 m), and alpine (>1850 m) landscapes, and the interpretative frameworks employed by previous researchers. It suggests that reference to neither subsistence economies nor climate change by themselves suffices to explain Holocene occupational patterns and trends across the High Country. Rather, a consideration of Aboriginal named places and pathways, cosmologies and stories, and relations between territorial estates and kin, as documented in ethnohistoric texts and through current Aboriginal knowledge, allows for a richer, more cultural understanding of the occupation of the High Country.
Jonathan Benjamin and Sean Ulm
Since the first peopling of Australia and New Guinea (the continent of Sahul) during times of lower sea level more than 60,000 years ago, approximately 2 million km2 of land, roughly one-third of the present continental land mass, has been drowned by sea-level rise. Landscapes encountered and settled by thousands of generations of people throughout the continent have been inundated by rising seas as polar ice and glaciers melted into the world’s oceans. While some archaeological sites formed within these landscapes were no doubt destroyed by the rising seas, many sites are likely to have survived. This submerged archaeological record represents the majority of human occupation in Sahul, spanning the period from initial peopling of the continent to 7000 years BP. As a major frontier in Australian archaeology, investigation of what is now seabed will ultimately lead to revised and enhanced understanding of the continental archaeological record. By reevaluating the coastal zone, submerged landscapes, and continental shelf, consideration for these past cultural landscapes in what is now Sea Country has the potential to profoundly reshape the archaeological discourse of Australia and New Guinea.
This chapter examines X-ray art in western Arnhem Land in northern Australia, considering how relatively contemporary artists used it to enrich the meaning of their work. After discussing early research on the meanings of X-ray and developing interpretations of art of the ancestors, the chapter explores the use of X-ray representation in rock art in western Arnhem Land, then analyzes the use of art in ceremony, focusing on Mardayin and Lorrkon, as well as the production of bark paintings made for sale through commercial outlets. It shows that understanding X-ray imagery helps to create intellectual connections between many areas of experience of the world. The chapter looks at the first creators, Yingarna and Ngalyod the rainbow serpents, and their role in promoting creative uses of X-ray infill and concludes that art helps initiates understand the powers of Djang not only as corporeal entities but also in more metaphysical terms.
Madeleine Kelly and Liam M. Brady
Identifying style provinces is a popular topic of enquiry in Australian rock art research. At the core of these studies is the focus on the style or manner of depiction of motifs as a key indicator for determining patterns of motif similarity and difference, and their corresponding spatial distribution. In identifying spatial continuities and discontinuities based on a formal analysis of rock art motifs fixed in place, researchers sometimes limit their ability to understand the relational dimensions associated with past and present graphic systems more broadly. This chapter reviews and critiques the formal, style-based methods of delineating discontinuities in rock art as boundaries and uses Nancy Williams’s work on Yolngu boundaries as a framework to further build on research into spatial discontinuities in rock art as flexible, intersecting, and fluid. In doing so, the authors also draw attention to the role of relational understandings and decorative portable objects in characterizing intersecting style-based discontinuities. Using two case studies from northern Australia, they demonstrate how the spatial and social boundaries expressed in rock art are often much more complex than originally envisaged.
Jane Balme and Sue O'Connor
The dingo, or native dog, arrived in Australia with people traveling on watercraft in the Late Holocene. By the time Europeans colonized the continent, dingoes were incorporated into the lives of Indigenous Australians, integrated into their kin systems and songlines, and used for a variety of purposes, including as companion animals, as guards, and as a biotechnology for hunting. Women, in particular, formed close bonds with dingoes, and they were widely used in women’s hunting. The incorporation of dingoes into Indigenous societies would therefore have had a significant impact on people’s lives. The greater contribution of meat to the diet would have allowed increased sedentism, improved fecundity, and therefore population growth. Such changes are hinted at in the archaeological record and indicate that more analysis of subsistence evidence could identify when and how the dingo–human relationship formed and how it varied in different environments across Australia.
Ian J. McNiven
Cultural interactions between Aboriginal peoples of northeastern Australia and Melanesian peoples of southern New Guinea have caught the attention of anthropologists and archaeologists since the nineteenth century. Moving away from older models of one-way diffusion of so-called advanced cultural traits from New Guinea to mainland Australia via Torres Strait, this article elaborates the concept of the Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere (CSCIS) as a framework to investigate two-way interactions, gene flow, and object movements across Torres Strait. The CSCIS centres on a series of ethnographically known, canoe-voyaging, and long-distance maritime exchange networks that linked communities over a distance of 2000 km along the south coast of mainland Papua New Guinea and the northeast coast of Australia. Archaeological evidence for temporal changes in the geographical spread of pottery and obsidian use indicates that the CSCIS was historically dynamic, with numerous reconfigurations over the past 3000 years. The CSCIS developed as the confluence of major cultural changes and demographic expansions that took place in northeastern Australia and southern mainland Papua New Guinea.
Questions of legal and cultural rights over rock art are particularly compelling given the very different significance the art holds for Indigenous people compared to that recognized by a more general public. In the past, conflicts have arisen between the interests of the Indigenous people and those of the nation state, or of non-Indigenous mining or tourism ventures. This chapter examines the legal rights that Indigenous people have to rock art sites on their land, as well as legal issues arising over the ownership and reproduction of rock art. It examines intellectual property law, including copyright, trade marks, and breach of confidence laws, as well as cultural heritage protection laws. Finally, it considers some of the broader cultural and ethical issues raised by non-Indigenous use of rock art imagery.
Chris Urwin and Matthew Spriggs
Most histories of Australian archaeology written in the past three decades imagine that the discipline came of age in (approximately) the year 1960. We are led to believe that systematic archaeological research, nuanced interpretations, and advocacy for the conservation of Aboriginal cultural heritage all date to the post-1960 era. Yet archaeological research in Australia has a lengthier and more complex genealogy. Here we use a series of case studies to explore the gradual development of the discipline during the twentieth century. We unpack key moments and projects during the early to mid-twentieth century and examine the extent to which the so-called professional archaeologists of the 1960s overlapped with and depended on the work of “amateur” scholars. We conclude by suggesting that the period of most rapid and significant change in archaeological thought and practice was precipitated by Aboriginal activism leading up to the 1980s. Australia’s First Peoples demanded control of research into their cultural heritage, a project that continues today. Our discipline must encourage a culture of reflexivity on its current practices by coming to terms with—rather than silencing—its history, whether good, bad, or ugly.
Dugongs and Turtles as Kin: Relational Ontologies and Archaeological Perspectives on Ritualized Hunting by Coastal Indigenous Australians
Ian J. McNiven
Indigenous Australia has a rich ethnographic record that provides opportunities for archaeology to better understand and appreciate past human–animal relationships and the worldviews in which they are based. These ethnographic accounts indicate that marine hunting of large prey such as dugongs and turtles was often highly ritualized. These rituals increased hunting success but also included fecundity rituals to increase and/or maintain the distribution and frequency of particular taxa. Such rituals were founded on an understanding of fundamental kin relationships between hunters and prey that were validated cosmologically, authorized by ancestral power, enabled by mutually understood sentience and dialogue, and operationalized by a social and moral contract of respect, trust, etiquette, social obligation, and reciprocity. The richness of the anthropological record for Torres Strait in northeastern Australia has provided an opportunity for archaeology to explore past dugong and turtle hunting rituals via shrines of mounded stone and bone dating to the past 500 years. These sites provide rare windows into human–animal ontologies and associated sentient worlds and kin-centric ecologies.
Engaging and Designing Place: Furnishings and the Architecture of Archaeological Sites in Aboriginal Australia
Bruno David, Jean-Jacques Delannoy, Chris Urwin, Joanna Fresløv, Russell Mullett, and Christine Phillips
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sites are commonly thought about as ‘natural’ locations onto which people variously undertook activities. This chapter argues and shows that sites are architectural constructs, built through a combination of design (preplanning), bricolage (improvisation), and engagement. Sites are artefacts whose cultural modes of construction are amenable to archaeological investigation. By employing a chaîne opératoire approach to the study of sites as landscape-scale artefacts, how and when they were built can be worked out, offering new insights into the cultural history of peoples and places.
Enhanced Ecologies and Ecosystem Engineering: Strategies Developed by Aboriginal Australians to Increase the Abundance of Animal Resources
Ian J. McNiven, Tiina Manne, and Anne Ross
Anthropological and archaeological representations of Aboriginal Australians as hunter-gatherers adapting to the natural availability of food resources are simplistic and inconsistent with ethnographic records of active, strategic, and sociopolitically meaningful resource enhancement. Scholarship over the past four decades has documented plant and animal food resource enhancement by Aboriginal Australians that blur socioeconomic boundaries with agricultural societies of New Guinea. Enhancements were achieved by using intimate knowledge of local ecological processes to modify ecosystems through a range of strategies such as landscape burning, animal translocation, protected rearing, shelter creation, and restocking. These strategies were embedded within broader sociocultural and sociopolitical domains that were often accompanied by ritual. Such engineered food enhancement practices reveal that many documented and modelled associations between environment and behaviour are in fact correlations between behaviour and the products of behaviour. The uneven distribution of animal resource enhancement practices across Australia indicates considerable regional diversity and supports existing views that many enhancements are related to regionally specific and historically contingent developments in social complexity.
Fatal Frontier: Temporal and Spatial Considerations of the Native Mounted Police and Colonial Violence across Queensland
Lynley A. Wallis, Heather Burke, Bryce Barker, and Noelene Cole
Over the past two decades, archaeologists have explored aspects of Indigenous agency to better encompass experiences of cross-cultural contact in colonial Australia. Yet the area of frontier conflict has largely remained the purview of historians, in part because of challenges in identifying such events archaeologically. One alternative means through which to consider frontier conflict is to investigate the material remains of colonial policing forces. This article focuses on the camps of the Native Mounted Police, a paramilitary government force that operated in Queensland from 1849 (before the state was officially established) until the early decades of the twentieth century. During this period, this force variously occupied 174 camp sites across Queensland, spread unevenly across pastoral and biogeographic districts. By mapping known events of frontier conflict (whether they be attacks on Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal people, stock, and/or property) across the state, we demonstrate that the extent and nature of frontier conflict was highly variable spatially and temporally, and was tied into a largely negative feedback loop with the deployment of the Native Mounted Police. Although Native Mounted Police camps did not form a defensive cordon of structures akin to a ‘frontier line’ across Queensland, they demarcated a frontier ‘zone’ that was contested, precarious, and violent. The fact that so many camps were required for such a long period provides clear evidence of the persistent and determined resistance of Aboriginal peoples to the theft of their land and the bloodshed that resulted.
Tim Ryan Maloney
This article reviews the Holocene records of flaked stone artefacts from the Sahul regions of New Guinea and northern Australia. Varied approaches to understanding the role of flaked stone tools in past societies have revealed novel insights into how humanity has adapted and thrived in this region, both ecologically and socially, in this period of immense environmental change and diversity. This review focuses on analytical approaches to convey how the latest Holocene technological organisation models are inferred from different flaked stone tool records. In doing so, it outlines a best-practice approach to understanding the underlying causes of flaked stone tool variability and revisits a contrast between Holocene hunter-gatherers and agriculturists.
M. A. Smith
The ‘Dreaming’ is an elaborate belief system that forms the governing ideology of Indigenous Australia. It religiously sanctions the relationship between people and place, and articulates it in a large repertoire of land-based mythology. The historical development of the ‘Dreaming’ is not known in any detail. Salomon Reinach and Émile Durkheim at the turn of the twentieth century saw it as preserving an elementary form of religious life. However, the long history of Aboriginal societies in Australia (now known to be at least 50,000–60,000 years) suggests that this belief system may itself have a long history of development and elaboration. Taking arid Australia as a case study, this article outlines the principal features of the ‘Dreaming’ in its ethnographic form and asks how we might trace it archaeologically. On the basis of current evidence, the ‘Dreaming’, in its classic form, appears to have taken shape during the last few millennia when many of its perquisites emerge in the archaeological record, although the possibility that it has more ancient roots is not discounted.