What is Indigenous Archaeology?


Indigenous Archaeology in Australia is concerned with the origin of Indigenous peoples, their settlement and movement on this continent, their lifeways, and their cultural and social interaction based on the artefactual record. The archaeology of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is another extremely topical and important field of study, given current issues such as Native Title and the reconciliation process. The social, ethical and political dimensions of practising Indigenous archaeology with one of the oldest living cultures in the world is a major aspect of the Indigenous archaeology stream.


Dedicated topics in Indigenous archaeology at Flinders include:
ARCH2202: Australian Indigenous Archaeology
ARCH3205: Indigenous Heritage Management
ARCH3310: Australian Indigenous Archaeology Field School
ARCH3311: Ethnoarchaeology in Aboriginal Australia Field School
ARCH3312: Rock Art Field School
ARCH8405: The Archaeology of Australian Stone Artefacts
ARCH8406: Issues in Indigenous Heritage Management
ARCH8409: Issues in Australian Rock Art
ARCH8410: Archaeology of Indigenous Australia
ARCH8803: Indigenous Australian Archaeology Field School
ARCH8804: Ethnoarchaeology Field School
ARCH8805: Australian Rock Art Field School

For more information about studying indigenous archaeology at Flinders please contact the lecturers in Indigenous Archaeology, Professor Claire Smith, Dr Amy Roberts or Dr Mick Morrison.

Current Projects

Ngaut Ngaut interpretive project.  This project, initiated in early 2010 by Amy Roberts and the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Inc., aims to present to the public the many tangible and intangible values of the significant site of Ngaut Ngaut (formerly known as Devon Downs) through a variety of media.

(Re)locating Narrunga: A Community Built Vessel.   In collaboration with the Narungga community this project by Amy Roberts, Jennifer McKinnon, Clem O'Loughlin, Lester-Irabinna Rigney and Klynton Wanganeen aims to (re)locate, survey and document the vessel Narrunga, as well as other archaeological remains pertinent to the story of this significant vessel.

Anthropogenic or natural? Earthen mound formation at Weipa. Earth mounds are an uncommon and poorly understood site at Weipa and have been previously interpreted as natural deposits that were formed by nesting scrub fowls (Megapodius reinwardt). However, there is a very high level of variation in earth mound distribution, morphology  and composition and  ethnographic and archaeological evidence from elsewhere suggests  that this generic explanation may not be sufficient. This project, with Dr Justin Shiner (Rio Tinto-Alcan), involves attempting to understand earth mound formation processes. Excavations were undertaken in 2007-2008, preliminary analysis in 2009-2010 and additional lab work and analysis and currently underway.

The economy of Aboriginal missions. In 1898 a Presbyterian mission was established inland of Weipa, in part to provide a refuge for Aboriginal people escaping violence associated with the pastoral and fishing industries in the region. From the early 1900s, it had effectively become a Church-run Government institution, with local missionaries having increasing control over the lives of Aboriginal people. A major focus of the mission was on preparing Aboriginal people for a ‘civilised’ life, which in practice meant their incorporation into capitalist systems. As such, this mission effectively represented the first sustained interaction between local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal modes of production and this project traces the history of this settlement’s development and the changing character of its economy until its closure in the 1960s.

The archaeology of ‘sugarbag’.Scarred or culturally modified trees (CMTs) are the most common feature of the archaeology of the Weipa region. This project involves using CMTs as a basis for addressing questions about the ways  Aboriginal production strategies shifted during and after colonisation. Of particular focus are ‘sugarbag’ CMTs – those created through production of wild honey and wax. It involves statistical and spatial analysis of CMT morphology and distribution as well as exploring the potential of dendrochronology and dendroecology to better understand the context in which CMTs were created.

The Alngith Land and Sea Management Project. This project involves assisting Alngith people with developing various strategic plans as the basis for developing their land and sea management program. These include development of a cultural heritage strategic plan, land and sea management plan and a training plan. Research on this project involves documenting how Alngith people value their country, key concerns and  issues they have with current management arrangements, and finally, their aspirations for community owned management in the future. This project is in partnership with Malaruch Alngith Corporation Ltd.

The Muluridji Cultural Heritage Program.This project involves working with the Muluridji People in Mareeba, north Queensland, to develop and implement a cultural heritage program that aims to document and manage cultural heritage values. The project’s major emphasis  is on supporting Muluridji people to actively manage their heritage as well as undertaking research into questions and issues that are of importance to them.

Past Projects

Investigating the Woolgar Aboriginal Massacre Site, Northwest Queensland

Archaeological Investigations on Bora Station, northwest QLD

Investigations of Aboriginal hearths on the Mitchell Grass Downs, northwest Qld

Archaeological investigations  at the Pleistocene aged Gledswood 1 rockshelter, northwest Queensland

The Archaeological Investigation of Long Point, Coorong