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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Michael Rowland, Ben Shaw, and Sean Ulm
Coasts, islands, and marine resources played a central role in the dispersal of people into and across Sahul (the combined landmass of New Guinea and Australia). This vast area spans tropical and temperate latitudes, with changes in the abundance and distribution of coastal resources having greatly influenced how people used these landscapes. Little is known of early coastal and island occupation in the millennia after colonisation because sites of this antiquity are now under water, and most islands formed in the Holocene following the postglacial rise in sea level. Current evidence indicates that small, mobile populations harvested nearshore shellfish and fish by 44–42 ka, with long-distance sea voyaging and interisland trade apparent by 25–20 ka. Increasingly intensive coast and island use is evident by the Mid-Holocene, with specialised maritime economies emerging in tropical latitudes throughout the Late Holocene. Although large gaps remain in our understanding of coastally oriented lifeways, multidisciplinary studies are increasingly challenging global paradigms about the antiquity and importance of marine resources on human cultural development.
Mortars and Pestles Make the Mid-Holocene Occupation of New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago Visible
Stone mortars and pestles are distributed across New Guinea, but few have been found in West Papua. As they are now securely dated to the Mid-Holocene, their distribution can be used as the basis for modelling Mid-Holocene population concentrations. Artefacts with elaborate morphologies also allow the modelling of social interaction. The declining availability of the Castanopsis nut following land clearance would have played a major role in the abandonment of mortars and pestles in the highlands. Decreasing coastal connectivity due to the infilling of the Sepik-Ramu inland sea may have also played a role in this abandonment. The continued availability of canarium and coconuts in coastal areas allowed the making of nut and starch puddings to continue. However, the pottery bought by Austronesian speakers (Lapita) would have allowed tubers to be steam-cooked, and the softer result probably led to stone versions of mortars and pestles being abandoned and replaced with wooden versions.
Judith Littleton, Sarah Karstens, and Harry Allen
The Murray River Valley was one of the most densely occupied areas of inland Australia during the Holocene. Unlike other areas of Australia, the record of burials and human remains dominates archaeological narratives of this area’s Aboriginal experience. In this article, we review bioarchaeological evidence from the region. In addition to mortuary remains, also discussed in this article are evidence from human morphological variation, palaeopathology, and diet. While the valley is often treated as a single region, Aboriginal communities who lived along the Murray shared aspects of economic and cultural systems but also demonstrated diversity and local trajectories. Rather than a single grand narrative the valley’s bioarchaeological evidence shows variation which is the product of multiple local factors.
Ursula K. Frederick
This chapter explores the relationship between graffiti and rock art in the context of archaeological and heritage studies. It outlines how archaeologists, and particularly rock art scholars, have approached graffiti and addresses the complexities of terminology and contested values common to this field of study. The author argues against an oversimplified polemic that has hampered the progression of graffiti/rock art research, suggesting that much may be learned about processes of identification, evaluation, and interpretation by considering graffiti and rock art as associated, albeit distinct, practices of inscription. Through an investigation of two specific sites of historical inscription—Alcatraz Island (San Francisco, US) and the North Head Quarantine Station (Sydney, Australia)—the chapter demonstrates the powerful role that inscription practices play in the making and unmaking of places and the meanings they carry.
Persistence of Complexity: Continuation of Intensification, Population Change, and Socio-Structural Change in Current Debates in Australian Archaeology
Harry Lourandos and Anne Ross
The Intensification debate of the late 1970s–1980s in world and Australian archaeology challenged conventional environmental theories of human behaviour, and the concept of hunter-gatherers in general. It emphasized change and dynamics in past hunter-gatherer societies, arguing against predominant environmental control and comparing, rather than contrasting, hunter-gatherers with other societies such as agriculturalists and horticulturalists. The debate was directed at questions of resource use and economy, demography, and sociostructural change, and it set forth paradigmatic changes and new narratives regarding the conceptualization of hunter-gatherers and their history (prehistory). Discussed here are the debate’s theoretical history and development in the Australian context, its results, its lasting influence and critique, and its continued relevance in debates today.
Sven Ouzman, Peter Veth, Cecilia Myers, Pauline Heaney, and Kevin Kenneally
The multiple Aboriginal rock art traditions of Australia’s Kimberley contain primary evidence of commensal human–plant relationships that we term ‘ecoscaping’. Produced over tens of thousands of years, Kimberley rock art contains up to 25% of sites with plant depictions in some of its earliest traditions, which date to at least 16,000 years ago. A finite range of food and medicinal plants are depicted (yams, tubers, fruits, as well as paint-soaked grasses pressed onto rock walls) in structured iconographic and landscape contexts. Very few gatherer-hunter rock arts globally offer such plentiful, detailed, and archaeologically and palaeoenvironmentally contextualized evidence of plants in both daily life and symbolic thought. We suggest that this rock art is evidence of an entangled landscape that combines geography, hydrology, biological vitality, and anthropological dynamics—an ‘ecoscaping’ that differs from more deterministic formulations such as ‘domiculture’. Kimberley plant rock art is best understood as a key artefact and practice in how people managed the often extreme environmental and concomitant social change the Kimberley has experienced.
Liam M. Brady, Robert G. Gunn, Claire Smith, and Bruno David
This chapter discusses the contribution of ethnography to the study of Australian rock art. With more than 100 years of ethnographic enquiry into rock art from across the country, valuable insights into the meaning, motives, function, and symbolism of images have been identified. However, with this information comes challenges with its use (and abuse), as well as the necessity to understand the cultural contexts of interpretation and meaning-making. This chapter explores the various ways Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders) engage with and describe their understandings of rock art in a variety of contexts. This review also highlights the complex nature of the interpretative process and the ethnographic gaze in which it is embedded. At its core, ethnographic approaches to Australian rock art reveal the multidimensional referential qualities of images found across the landscape.
Ian J. McNiven and Ariana B. J. Lambrides
Fishing was and remains an important subsistence activity of many coastal and inland Indigenous peoples of Australia and New Guinea. The range of ethnographically known fishing methods used to obtain freshwater and marine fishes is similar across the two regions. This ethnographic picture of diversity and complexity is not matched archaeologically, where stone-walled fish traps dominate. Archaeological research on stone-walled fish traps has focused on technical dimensions (e.g., mapping, classification, and dating) and social dimensions (e.g., gender, social complexity, and social organization). Stone-walled fish traps can transform the social and ecological landscape and, in an archaeological context, provide an opportunity to explore decision making and the sociocultural changes associated with the installation of these fixed-in-place facilities. Relevant social organizational changes with potential material correlates amenable to archaeological research include the restructuring of residential sites; interregional gatherings and exchange relationships; aquatic resource enhancement and regularization; and ownership and control of facilities and resources, including territorial partitioning of land- and seascapes.
Chris Urwin, James W. Rhoads, and Joshua A. Bell
The Papuan Gulf’s littoral coastline has been emerging and transforming since the late Pleistocene. Large river deltas such as the Fly, Kikori, and Purari transport sediments into the Coral Sea, and these are reworked by prevailing tides and seasonal currents to form a world of sand and swamps that Papuan Gulf peoples inhabit. This article reviews the archaeology of key sites in the region and identifies themes for future explorations of the region’s rich heritage. It explores how the region’s delta-dwelling societies occupied, modified, and made sense of their relatively fluid physical environments. Two aspects are explored in detail: (1) the potential to historicize the emergence of sago cultivation and its role in sustaining local settlements and long-distance trade; and (2) the contribution of nuanced spatial histories of migration and place-making to the region’s narrative.