Archaeology supporting Indigenous communities

archaeology2Flinders University students have been working with Indigenous communities in Western Australia to uncover the archaeological history of important cultural sites with a view to developing plans for their management and conservation.

The research has the backing of key stakeholders, including BHP Billiton, the National Trust of Australia’s (WA) Gabbie Kylie Foundation, the WA Department of Indigenous Affairs and the Western Australian Museum.

Head of Flinders’ Archaeology Department, Dr Heather Burke and senior lecturer Dr Lynley Wallis last month led a two-week field school at Lake Pleasantview (near Albany), Esperance and Munglinup where they undertook vegetation surveys, excavations, artefact recordings and oral history interviews with traditional owners about the significance of the areas to them.

Joining the 15 Flinders students were peers from other universities, as well as staff from BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam, Queensland’s Ergon Energy and Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.

“The Indigenous communities really drove the research. They were very clear they wanted to know how old and extensive the sites were, whether there were other sites nearby and how the landscape relates to people’s use of the place,” Dr Burke said.

“There are things they already do know but the archaeology gives them a different, scientific perspective,” she said.

Dr Wallis said the Esperance field trip involved a detailed survey of a stone arrangement, some 700m in length that is being overtaken by vegetation; while at Munglinup, about 100km west, another group of students worked on stone artefact exposures.

“One of the things we’re doing is making detailed recordings as a baseline for the community, who can then make informed decisions about how they will manage the site,” Dr Wallis said.

“If the community wants to open up the site to the public or allow heritage tourism visits, they’ll need to have that baseline information,” she said.

Students were also involved in a geophysical survey of the Albany Memorial Cemetery to determine the location of unmarked graves of Indigenous Australians buried there in the early 19th century.

Dr Wallis said the field school offered students a unique cross-cultural experience.
“There were Aboriginal people on the field school as students and as traditional owners. This is cross-cultural experience in a real life setting.”

Dr Burke said the industry-supported field school is part of a broader program that ensures Flinders archaeology students are employable at the end of their training.

“They know what it’s like to work with a community and to have practical outcomes from research,” she said.

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