Flinders University Senior Lecturer Christopher Wilson has become the first Indigenous Australian to graduate with a PhD in archaeology.
Dr Wilson, a Ngarrindjeri man, has developed new archaeological evidence of Ngarrindjeri occupation in South Australia’s Lower Murray region dated to 8,500 years ago - sites significantly older than Egypt’s pyramids.
His research has included an archaeological survey along 30 kilometres of Murray River banks between Mypolonga and Monteith, which involved relocating nearly 100 shell midden sites in the area and eight excavations.
“These finds serve as a springboard to the next level,” says Dr Wilson, who graduated at Flinders University at Bedford Park, Adelaide on 20 September.
“The artefacts we are finding have their own story to tell, that now need further research.
“They tell an important part of the narrative about our culture.”
Dr Wilson’s research contributes to previous evidence (including the oldest wooden boomerang, dated at 10,000 years BP, excavated from the Coorong by Dr Roger Luebbers in the 1970s) which suggests that Indigenous Australians were part of a highly developed socio-economic organisation in what is believed to be the continent’s most populated region at the time of colonial contact.
Dr Wilson has also assisted in the repatriation and reburial of human remains of Ngarrindjeri Old People, recovered from Australian and British museums since 2000, on traditional Ngarrindjeri land.
He plans to continue this work, in association with the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, which he sees as an important part of correcting past practices.
“This helps the community through a necessary healing process,” he says.
Beyond helping to qualify aspects of Indigenous Australian history through his archaeology, Dr Wilson believes his doctorate serves as a positive education pathway for other Indigenous Australian students to follow.
“It can plant the idea of possibility,” he says.
“When I was a high school student at Christies Beach, there was very little talk among Indigenous families about going to university, but I’ve found that pursuing higher education provides opportunities that are beneficial for the whole community.
“Learning results in better outcomes for all our lives.”
Dr Wilson works with Yunggorendi Student Engagement at the Office of Indigenous Strategy and Engagement at Flinders University.