Call for papers: Indigenous Knowledge, Stewardship and Heritage Management session at the 2014 Australian Archaeological Association Annual Conference

Annie Ross and I are convening a session at the Australian Archaeological Association Annual Conference in Cairns entitled ‘Indigenous Knowledge, Stewardship and Heritage Management‘. The session idea comes out of Annie’s longstanding research in this area, as well as my own ongoing research around this issue at Weipa. The abstract is as follows:

Indigenous-driven land management or ‘stewardship’ programmes are increasingly common throughout Australia. These programmes vary considerably, but typically focus on Indigenous values, knowledge and approaches to the management of tangible and intangible heritage. They are often based on governance structures that recognise local cultural norms, work towards implementing objectives determined by local language or clan groups and typically employ community members as rangers and in other similar roles. Our contention is that these programmes represent important spaces for innovative and genuinely community-based approaches to heritage management and the stewardship of Indigenous cultural landscapes, thereby situating applied research in an ‘Indigenous archaeologies’ methodology. This session seeks contributions from Indigenous community members, archaeologists, anthropologists and others who are working within such programmes. What are the varied approaches that Indigenous communities are developing and applying and what lessons are there in these approaches for cultural heritage management and archaeological method and theory? What are the relationships between Indigenous management programmes and the goals of an Indigenous archaeologies methodology? We encourage papers that explore these and related issues.

The call for papers for our session is completely open, and we’re keen to hear from people working all over Australia and internationally. If you’re interested, and if you have any questions, then please drop me a line or  leave a comment below.  Abstracts can be lodged via the online abstract submission system before the 27th June 2014.

It’s also worth noting that the Conference Organising Committee are providing up to $1,000 to support Indigenous delegates and students who attend and participate in this year’s conference. See the guidelines at the AAA Conference website.

Australian Indigenous archaeology and cultural heritage wrap, 5 March

I try to keep a close eye on new papers, books and so on relevant to Australian Indigenous archaeology and collate much of this information in Zotero. I thought it might be worth irregularly posting a list of new materials that I’ve noticed. If there’s some interest, I’ll turn this into an open Zotero group. This is by no means comprehensive, just a list of the items that I stumble across and that might be of interest to others.

I will avoid commenting on items; the authors speak well enough for themselves.

Continue reading

A late night rant: new media and netiquette

This evening via Twitter, @blackfellas pointed out a story that was published on the Australian Broadcasting Commission website about a rock art ‘breakthrough’ in Western Australia.

ABC Online Indigenous - News-1.png

This was covered in slightly more detail a few hours later, also by the ABC. Upon reading this, I posted a none too eloquent knee-jerk reaction to twitter, as one tends to do:

Twitter _ @Mick Morrison_ Hate it when journos don_t ....png

A reasonable story, perhaps  lacking on detail but certainly typical of much of the content we see circulated through social media.

What concerned me was this: here was a ‘sexy’, informative and interesting science story that might just get some attention from non-specialist audiences. It turned up on Twitter, after all. While I appreciate that ABC news may not have enough time to tease out detailed stories about academic research findings, there was no acknowledgement of where one might find out more information about this story. No link to a press release, academic journal or other useful web source.

A few minutes later, @Alun Salt, very kindly replied across Twitter pointing out that the research had in fact recently appeared in the academic journal Antiquity, published in the UK. Not only was the article entirely online, but it is posted in an area of the journal that is both freely accessible to the public and partly intended to help promote archaeology to a wider, non-academic audience. It’s a little technical, but worth a look:


Figure 1 from Pettigrew et al 2010

In my view, this is sloppy work by the ABC and breaches basic net etiquette of acknowledging sources on the web. The media landscape is shifting in Australia, the direction of which is very much being set by the innovative approach of the ABC. There may be a more detailed story to come, or more detailed coverage on one of the ABC blogs, but that’s beside the point. Frankly, I think it’s poor form for any news outlet to publish stories such as this on the web without the mere courtesy of linking to your source. This might annoy any journalist wandering by, but in my view if you want to engage with new media, is it really that much to ask to adhere to basic netiquette?

It also illustrates one of the many advantages of researchers pushing more of their own material out to the public through blogs and social media. Cover your own research, and control the story you push out there. As others have suggested, if you have time for academic conferences, why don’t you have time for blogging.

Probably a  late night over reaction, but there you have it. The full story is published in Antiquity (no paywall):

Pettigrew, J., Callistemon, C. Astrid, W., Gorbushina, A., Krumbein, W. and R. Weiler 2010 Living pigments in Australian Bradshaw rock art. Antiquity, 84(326). Available from: [Accessed 6 January 2011]

AAA conference is here again

It’s conference season again here in Australia and all of the major anthropology and archaeology organisations have held or will soon hold their annual conferences. The only one I’ll be attending is the Australian Archaeology Association (AAA) in December at Bateman’s Bay on the New South Wales south coast and which is being hosted by the Australian National University. It’s become something of an annual tradition for me and I usually try and contribute something – as I did in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

I’m presenting a paper and a poster this year, and have posted both abstracts below as part of my ongoing efforts here to self archive my work. Both are collaborative projects; the first is a paper with Dr Justin Shiner on some preliminary results of excavations of earthen mounds we excavated a couple of years ago at Weipa, which we hope to submit for publication early next year. The second is a poster with Dr Nicky Horsfall which explores some issues associated with  heritage management near Cape Flattery on south eastern Cape York. I have a half written blog post on this, which I’ll try and get onto over the coming weeks. I’m also co-convening a session with Oliver Brown on behalf of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists (Session 15 – abstract here).

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, but last year a new Executive Committee was elected by the membership, which traditionally happens every two years. Dr Lynley Wallis (UQ) is now President, Andrew Border Secretary, Dan Rosendahl membership secretary and I was nominated as Treasurer (see full details here). So we have quite a bit to get organised in terms of preparing for the Annual General Meeting.  One of our major projects is to redevelop our existing website in line with this brief, and so we’ll hopefully be able to present some options for members to vote on.

In any case, it should be a hectic but enjoyable 4 days in what appears to be a very nice part of the world.


Shifting sands: archaeology and heritage management in the Cape Flattery dunefields, eastern Cape York (Poster)

EDIT, 26 November: unfortunately we won’t be presenting this poster this year.

Dr Mick Morrison1, Dr Nicky Horsfall2,

1. Department of Archaeology,Flinders University; 2. Consulting Archaeologist, Edge Hill, Cairns; 3. Nguurruumungu Clan Group, Cape Flattery; 4. Diingal Clan Group, Cape Flattery.

The Cape Flattery region on eastern Cape York is renowned for its extensive dunefields comprised of silica rich sands. While the vast majority of the area is listed on the National Heritage Register for its natural heritage values, one isolated sand mining operation continues. This paper addresses two issues. First, it highlights the contribution of consulting archaeology to understanding what is, in archaeological terms at least, a relatively poorly understood region. Second, it explores a range of issues relevant to identifying, assessing and managing archaeological places within these complex and dynamic landscapes. Of particular note at Cape Flattery is the way in which archaeological deposits are shaped and reshaped by the dynamic nature of the landscape itself particularly in regard to the ways very large dunes form, move and are dispersed as a result of wind action. This ongoing research is being supported by Cape Flattery Silica Mines, Cairns.

Preliminary results of investigations of earthen mounds at Weipa, western Cape York Peninsula.

Michael Morrison1 and Justin Shiner2

1. Department of Archaeology, Flinders University; 2.  Specialist Archaeologist, Rio Tinto-Alcan
Recent research and cultural heritage management activities near Weipa  on western Cape York Peninsula has identified numerous low earthen mounds. These bear strong similarities in appearance to published descriptions of anthropogenic mounds from coastal Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. They are frequently associated with low density surface deposits of stone artefacts and marine shell, and are found on narrow, seasonally waterlogged alluvial plains near tidal creeks. They have also been identified on a post-contact mission site in association with surface deposits of historic material and remains of built structures. This paper presents preliminary results of excavations and radiocarbon dating of some of these mounds and considers whether they were formed by people, or alternatively, represent natural processes of accumulation, including formation by the scrub hen, Megapodius reinwardt.

Post image by : Christian Senger, Conference Time…, June 28, 2009,

Human responses to climate change in Australia over the past 2000 years

Williams, Ulm, Goodwin and Smith have just had a paper published in the Journal of Quaternary Science that explores broad patterns in human occupation and environmental change across Australia over the past 2,000 years. It’s worth a quick summary post here.

The paper presents:

an analysis of sum probability distributions of 1275 radiocarbon ages from 608 archaeological sites to explore the relationship between archaeological records and palaeoclimatic records across central and northern Australia

As they say, they use these radiocarbon data to model time series trends that highlight occupation patterns across Australia during the past 4,000 years. They link this to climate models which during this period are most strongly influenced by the El Niño Southern Osscillation (ENSO). The figure below, which I reproduce here from their paper (P 833), illustrates how these two datasets relate to each other.

In short, they identify two key trends at periods highlighted on this figure. First, that a period of increased La Niña activity at around AD 500 to 700 resulted in less variable, wetter conditions and this corresponded to a reduction in archaeological signatures. Second, increasingly variable conditions during a period of stronger El Niña activity (more variable, less rainfall) between AD 1150-1500 led to an increase in archaeological signatures.

They imply that reductions or increases in archaeological signatures are in a sense a proxy for the degree of mobility employed by Aboriginal hunter-gatherer populations in Australia. They suggest that the earlier trend is “hard to explain” (p 835) because a change toward more favourable (less variable, wetter) conditions could be expected to produce an increased archaeological signature due to more resources rather than the reduction in the signature that they document. They account for this possible discrepancy by arguing that “increasing sedentism or a shift to logistical mobility strategies”(p 835) may have resulted in this reduced signature. Another line of evidence, such as increased intensity of use of some sites might help to resolve this issue (e.g. Lourandos and David 1998).

The main thrust of their argument though relates to explaining the substantial evidence for increasingly variable conditions and an increased archaeological signature between about AD 1150 and 1500. They argue that increasing variability may have resulted in greater levels of resource stress for people who responded by adopting more mobile settlement patterns. In addition, they point out that at this time regional archaeological signatures from many parts of Australia evidence a range of economic, technological and demographic changes (new technologies, new resources being used, etc). Their view is that these changes can be best explained as adaptations to these increasingly variable conditions.

It’s a useful paper that encapsulates a re-emerging debate in Australia about human-environmental interactions over the past 4,000 years. They have tended to omit any discussion of the ‘s’ word (‘social’) however the value of this paper is in the quite wide ranging synthesis it presents, rather than how it engages with previous debates about late Holocene change in Australia. I’m not entirely convinced by their explanations of the trends since they lack explanation of just why and how people responded to increasing/decreasing environmental variability in these ways, but it raises some important new questions that archaeologists exploring issues in the archaeology of the Late Holocene in Australia need to address.

Their abstract can be found at the JQS website I seemed to be able to access it without institutional login, so hopefully it’s not behind a paywall.

Haberle, S. and B. David, 2004 Climates of change: human dimensions of Holocene environmental change in low latitudes of the PEPII transect Quaternary International 118-119: 165-179.

Williams, A. N. et al., 2010 Hunter-gatherer response to late Holocene climatic variability in northern and central Australia Journal of Quaternary Science 25 (6): 831-838. 

Lourandos, H. and B. David., 1998 Comparing long-term archaeological and environmental trends: north Queensland, arid and semi-arid Australia The Artefact 21: 105-14. 

Australian Archaeology Association Conference 2009

September to December is typically the ‘conference season’ in Australia and is when most major archaeology conferences are scheduled. The largest of these is the Australian Archaeology Association’s annual conference which this year is being held in Adelaide, South Australia in early December. The keynote speaker is Professor Geoff Bailey (University of York) and the conference seems to have a good selection of sessions on offer. Continue reading

Evidence for genetic links between Indian and Australian populations ~55,000 years ago

New genetic research reported in the July edition of BMC Evolutionary Biology (1) suggests shared mitochondrial DNA between some ‘relic tribes of India’ and Australian Aboriginal people.

Our complete mtDNA sequencing of 966 individuals frm 26 relic populations of India identified seven individuals from central Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic tribes who share two basal synonymous mtDNA polymorphisms … with the M42 haplogroup, which is specific to Australian Aboriginies.

They suggest that divergence between the two populations occurred at 55,000±10,800 years BP, an estimate based on statistical analysis of mtDNA mutation rates. They argue that this is consistent with current evidence for early occupation of Australia and suggest their data supports Australian colonisation via the southern dispersal route through south Asia ~60-50,000 years BP. Kris Hurst at has a good overview of the southern disperal route though her suggested dates for earliest colonisation of Australia are quite conservative.

ABC Science (2) have published comments from Dr Jeremy Austin at the University of Adelaide who suggests that “…this is the first time people have been able to find these exact same mitochondrial DNA types inside and outside Australia”.

Full abstract and the open source paper can be accessed from the Biomedcentral website. Thanks to Tim Jones who first blogged this at as well as @jorgenholm on twitter who picked up the ABC story.


(1) Kumar, Satish, Rajasekhara Ravuri, Padmaja Koneru, B Urade, B Sarkar, A Chandrasekar, and V Rao. 2009. Reconstructing Indian-Australian phylogenetic link. BMC Evolutionary Biology 9, no. 1: 173. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-173.

(2) Phillips, Nicky. 2009. DNA confirms coastal trek to Australia. Item. 24T14:40:00+10:00 7.

Barks, Birds and Billabongs: legacy of the 1948 American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land

The National Museum of Australia are hosting a symposium exploring the legacy of the 1948  American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, northern Australia. Archaeologists and anthropologists may be familiar with some of the early research carried out during this expedition by McCarthy, Mountford and others though a much broader range of research was undertaken. The following quote is from Wikipedia, which suprisingly has some well referenced and seemingly accurate information on the expedition:

In February 1948, a team of Australian and American researchers and support staff came together in northern Australia to begin, what was then, one of the largest scientific expeditions ever to have taken place in this country—the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land (also known as the Arnhem Land Expedition). Today it remains one of the most significant, most ambitious and least understood expeditions ever mounted[1]. Seventeen men and women journeyed across the remote region known as Arnhem Land in northern Australia for nine months. From varying disciplinary perspectives, and under the guidance of expedition leader Charles Mountford, they investigated the Indigenous populations and the environment of Arnhem Land. In addition to an ethnographer, archaeologist, photographer, and filmmaker, the expedition included a botanist, a mammalogist, an ichthyologist, an ornithologist, and a team of medical and nutritional scientists. Their first base camp was Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Three months later they moved to Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula and three months following that to Oenpelli (now Gunbalanya) in west Arnhem Land[2]. The journey involved the collaboration of different sponsors and partners (among them the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and various agencies of the Commonwealth of Australia). In the wake of the expedition came volumes of scientific publications, kilometres of film, thousands of photographs, tens of thousands of scientific specimens, and a vast array of artefacts and paintings from across Arnhem Land. The legacy of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition is vast, complex, and, at times, contentious.[3]

Details on the symposium can be found on the NMA website, but in summary:

Six decades have passed since the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. So it is a fitting moment for celebration, re-evaluation and renewed collaboration between the individuals, institutions and countries touched by this formative research venture.

In 2009 the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia will be hosting Barks, Birds & Billabongs: Exploring the legacy of the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, an international symposium that will investigate the Expedition’s significant and often controversial legacy.

This symposium will be organised around three core themes: Histories, Legacies and Continuity & Change. Particular emphasis will be placed on Indigenous perspectives.

New book: “New directions in archaeological science”

The Terra Australis monograph series has traditionally provided an important publication opportunity for researchers working in the Australasian region, particularly for those wanting to publish lengthy data rich work such as PhD theses or other major archaeological projects. The series started in 1971 and despite a 10 year gap in new volumes between 1989 and 1999, the series has had a notable resurgence in recent years supplementing the traditional monograph format with edited volumes and conference proceedings. The most recent Terra Australis volume ‘New Directions in Archaeological Science’, edited by Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick is I suspect one of the first conference proceedings to be published in the series.

This volume emerged from the 2005 meeting of the Australasian Archaeometry Association and includes papers on geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry:

Archaeological Science meetings will have a personality of their own depending on the focus of the host archaeological fraternity itself. The 8th Australasian Archaeometry meeting follows this pattern but underlying the regional emphasis is the continuing concern for the processes of change in the landscape that simultaneously effect and illuminate the archaeological record. These are universal themes for any archaeological research with the increasing employment of science-based studies proving to be a key to understanding the place of humans as subjects and agents of change over time.

This collection of refereed papers covers the thematic fields of geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry, with particular emphasis on the first two. The editors Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick outline the special value of these contributions in the introduction. The international nature of archaeological science will mean that the advances set out in these papers will find a receptive audience among many archaeologists elsewhere. There is no doubt that the story that Australasian archaeology has to tell has been copiously enriched by incorporating a widening net of advanced science-based studies. This has brought attention to the nature of the environment as a human artefact, a fact now more widely appreciated, and archaeology deals with these artefacts, among others, in this way in this publication.

You can find the chapter list here and the editors provide a good overview of the volume in their foreword. For me, stand out papers include a series on open sites within the complex semi-arid landscapes of western New South Wales (papers by Fanning, Holdaway and Phillips; Shiner; and Holdaway, Fanning and Littleton) as well as several considering some of the complexities of using marine shell for radiocarbon dating (Petchey; Bourke and Hua). However this only reflects my personel interests rather than the quality of other papers on topics including OSL dating, chemical characterisation of pottery, analysis of megafaunal bones and macrobotanical analysis.

Significantly, the volume is published both in printed form and as a (free) electronic download by the Australian National University E-Press. For some reason, it appears as Terra Australis 28 (2009 publication date) while another good volume published last year (Islands of Inquiry: colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime seascapes edited by Clark, Leach and O’Connor) was published in 2008 as volume 29.

Via the Archaeometry blog

Australian Archaeology Web Resources @ Ozarch

Gary Vines and the community of users at the Ozarch Google Group (previously posted about here) have developed a really handy list of Australian Archaeology web resources. It includes Government agencies, Indigenous organisations and other relevant resources and is quite a handy resource that can be accessed here. Group members can edit the document and add new links and resources to the list.

If you’re not already a member of the Ozarch Group I highly recommend joining. It is moderated rather well, does not overload your email inbox and appears to be turning into quite a nice little web community.