Review of ‘Australian Archaeology ’95: Proceedings of the 1995 Australian Archaeological Association Annual Conference’ edited by Sean Ulm, Ian Lilley and Annie Ross

07th January 2014

Veth Book Review Cover 1997‘Australian Archaeology ’95: Proceedings of the 1995 Australian Archaeological Association Annual Conference’ edited by Sean Ulm, Ian Lilley and Annie Ross, 1996, St Lucia: Anthropology Museum, University of Queensland, xiii + 322 pp. ISBN 909611-46-7 (pbk).

Review by Peter Veth

A weighty volume emanating from any professional group’s annual proceedings raises the spectre of papers of variable quality and import. To the credit of the editors, and indeed the conference organisers of the 1995 Australian Archaeological Association’s Annual Conference, this is not the case with Tempus Volume 6.

The volume is divided into six thematic sections, dealing with issues as disparate as interpretative frameworks for describing change in Australian prehistory, innovations in cultural heritage studies, advances in lithic analysis, regional archaeological syntheses and repatriation issues surrounding the ‘Tasmanian Affair’. In each of the sections there are at least a couple of papers which make major and substantive contributions to critical archaeological understanding. The volume is well produced, showing high quality in both the creation and reproduction of illustrations and plates. I counted less than 20 typographic errors and only minor errors in figure captions (e.g. Chapter 5, Fig. 1 and Chapter 6, Fig. 5). This is an attractive and professionally finished volume which represents good value for teachers and students of archaeology.

Australian Archaeology ’95 is introduced through a ‘reflexive’ piece by Sharon Sullivan, in which the changing paradigms of cultural heritage practice are reviewed. She notes the positive developments which have occurred in the attitudes of rangers, archaeologists and even some politicians in their acceptance of the principle of Aboriginal custodianship of cultural heritage and the willingness to work within this framework. Apposite narrative on the changing face of consultation (for example the early and inappropriate questioning of Aboriginal people in NSW fringe camps about stone tools), provides engaging and entertaining perspectives on the serious issue of changing balances of power between practitioners and custodians. Her ‘conte morale’ highlights the need for historical inequalities to be accommodated through contemporary processes in which empowered groups, such as archaeological practitioners, are potentially rendered vulnerable. In this sense. the first paper links into a wide raft of ethical issues raised by a number of the concluding papers on repatriation.

Harry Lourandos introduces the next section on ‘Change in Australian Prehistory: Scale, trends and frameworks of interpretation’. As I found this the most challenging section, I will spend some time commenting on it. Lourandos’s piece provides an excellent summary of the major critiques developed in response to cautionary and revisionist archaeologies. In revisiting the methodology of Rick (1987) and subsequent regional deconstructions by Bird and Frankel (1991) and Frankel (1993) he lists a number of problems with how the latter have confused their scales of analysis. Problems include the fact that the authors do not acknowledge that Rick’s method was designed to produce general regional trends and that the general trends are by definition composed of smaller ‘events’ when viewed at finer scales, that the archaeological trends they identify are consistent, rather than contrary, to those of Lourandos (1983) and Williams (1988) and that these trends run counter to environmental trends from the region, exactly the opposite of their main conclusion (cf. Lourandos and Ross 1994). Lourandos concludes that where clear divergence is apparent in environmental and archaeological trends, such as in the mid- to late Holocene in some parts of mainland Australia, significant sociocultural and demographic factors may be at work.

Ulm and Hall further develop aspects of this general critique in their outstanding treatment of dates and cultural chronologies from southeast Queensland. In one of the most clearly constructed and plausible treatments of a regional archaeology they demonstrate that significant in- creases occur in both the number of occupied sites and the rate of site establishment after 1200 cal BP, specifically within the coastal zone. Such increases may signal emerging intensification processes and the targeting of a broader spectrum of resources. They conclude, however, that the refinement of coarse-grained trends can only occur through the development and testing of ethnographically based socio-economic models.

One of the most useful parts of their paper is a summary of the three main techniques which have been used to generate regional chronologies based on radiocarbon dates, in which the downfalls of each approach are highlighted. These approaches include estimates of number of sites occupied for periods of time, counts of dates over time using a moving average, and rates of establishment of new sites. The first technique assumes linear interpolations between radiocarbon dates and termination in the present. The second, developed by Rick (1987), assumes that the number of dates reflects the magnitude of occupation. Clearly taphonomic processes and sample bias can skew this assumption of randomness. Ulm and Hall comment on how Bird and Frankel (1991:10) have erroneously applied the technique to demonstrate short-term changes in settlement pattern in response to shifts in local conditions, whereas Rick specifically used the technique to smooth the (trend) curve and broaden the temporal influence of each date. The final technique focuses on the creation of sites and, contra Bird and Frankel (1991:4), does not assume continuity of site use. By critically (re)visiting each of these methods the reader is in a much better position to judge the apparent trend in dates and evaluate the veracity of a model for permanent and increasing occupation of the coastal lowlands.

Barker’s paper on the Whitsunday Island sites continues the theme of comparison between environmental and archaeological trends. He documents clear changes in archaeological assemblages during the late Holocene which appear to be independent of changes in environment. He makes a sustained case for continuities in the marine resource base during transgression, as I have also done for the Montebello Islands of northwest Australia (Veth 1993). In contrast to Barker, however, I have noted that there is evidence for the predation of large marine reptiles, such as turtle, in the early Holocene. Barker’s paper is marred by several internal inconsistencies, however. For example he notes (p.36) that human groups are likely to have been coastal foragers who also utilised a substantial hinterland area, and then argues in the same paragraph that they followed the coastline and only occupied the Whitsundays when the coast was proximal. There are two similar examples (p.37) which require attention.

Boot’s long-term research into lithic assemblage variation from rockshelters in the South Coast of New South Wales is well contextualised in a paper which identifies two important regional trends. Firstly, there is no consistent evidence for increase in artefact discard rates or intensity of site use during the mid- to late Holocene and, secondly, what has previously been identified as mid- Holocene intensification may instead reflect a recovery to levels of activity not witnessed since the Pleistocene. One of the interesting methodologically based conclusions is that the rate of use-worn artefacts matches that of overall artefact discard rate, which lends some support to the use of measurements of overall artefact weight as a measure of the rate of intensity of site use.

The conjoining of artefacts from Kenniff Cave, to demonstrate vertical and horizontal movement, has been successfully carried out by Richardson (1992). In her paper from the current volume she takes the analysis one step further by employing three-dimensional mapping. She is able to discriminate between a range of depositional and postdepositional factors not available without the use of three-dimensional mapping. In addition to providing more accurate chronological envelopes for the appearance of elements of the hafted tradition, she is able to more adequately address the integrity of dated materials with specific artefacts. This is first class work which employs relevant technological analyses to address important archaeological questions.

The final paper in this section, by Bowdler, discusses cultural paradigms for change by focusing largely on implement morphologies which are then coalesced into Traditions. The paper implies that these Traditions express cultural unity, such as the addition of Hoabinhian elements to southeast Australian assemblages after 13,000 years ago. While her critique of the Core Tool and Scraper Tradition is justified, finding similar expression in other commentaries, the proposed Intermediate Larger Flake Tradition and Pebble-edge Industry (read Hoabinhian) cannot be accepted on the basis of the data presented in the paper. While Kenniff Cave and Puritjarra may show some trend towards greater variety and size in the retouched/utilised flake category by 20,000 years ago, this is unlikely to be a pan-Continental pattern (cf. Holdaway 1995). That the diffusion of the Hoabinhian Industry could largely escape detection in the Wallacean group and northern Australia. to re-appear in southeast Australia, requires considerable ex- planation. In my mind there is a clear need for these ‘cultural paradigms’ to be tempered with technological analyses based on appropriate behavioural models.

The following section on ‘New Directions in Cultural Heritage Management’ contains a range of papers which detail current themes and problem areas in management theory and practice. These may be summarised as the study of heritage and identity, sites as social landscape, the identification of archaeological conservation zones, the use of social construction theory, the recognition of customary law over archaeological sites and the politics of management practice. These papers are a far cry from the quantitatively driven treatises originating from CRM theory in the 1970s and clearly reflect new understandings of the role of sites as social phenomena, while also demonstrating an increasingly critical treatment of the processes by which sites are turned into commodities. It would be useful to see more reference made to anthropologically driven models of management, however, where many of these themes have been tackled over the last 18 years. For example, many Land Council-based models in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia have made distinctions between site identification, site avoidance and work area clearance for the purposes of management, where the aim is to retain the integrity of sites as part of a social landscape.

A shift into stone artefact, use-wear and residue studies in the next section exemplifies recent approaches which have been made to identify the social organisational and behavioural systems responsible for producing different types of assemblages and specific implements. For example, Lamb demonstrates that a collection of backed artefacts from South Molle Island, while demonstrating variation in their size and morphology, have been produced by the same system of reduction. She argues the relevance of her analysis to Hiscock’s model for specialisation in elements of the Small Tool Tradition and assumed changes in technological and behavioural systems as a response to perceived risk.

Richter develops an approach for the quantification of use-wear on flakes, by establishing parameters for implements used in the processing of fernroot. Both his edge wear model and experimental methodology are well formulated and the consistency of the results appealing. The corroboration of degree of wear on archaeological bevel-edged implements and the experimental set is, however, less convincing due to a number of necessary assumptions. For example, it must be assumed that the archaeological specimens have only been used to process Blechnum indicum, and that the processing techniques are analogous. A new technology for the differentiation of starch grains on artefacts is provided in the paper by Robertson. The technique employs electron microscopy, and provides rapid, non-destructive identification of small samples clearly of benefit to archaeobotany,.

The Tempus volume then contains two somewhat mandatory sections for an AAA Conference – regional research from the host state (Queensland) and from other parts of the continent. For Queensland, Cotter examines the evidence for Holocene environmental change in Deception Bay and convincingly demonstrates that coastal progradation is likely to have masked the majority of coastal sites older than 2500 BP (hence their absence as surface expressions). I was a little startled by her concluding comment (pp.200-l), however, that ‘. . . geomorphic evidence alone will not adequately explain the complexity of past social relations within Deception Bay’ and hasten to concur with her that the ‘archaeological record is best considered in the context of a cultural landscape approach’.

L’Oste-Brown, Godwin and Yelf document their collaborative work on the Taroom Aboriginal Reserve cemeteries and, as Lilley (p.191) notes, strike a happy balance between community aspirations and archaeological research potential. In the paper by Gorecki, Grant and Salmon a case is made for a new rock art province in the Esmeralda district of north Queensland. While the basic motif and stylistic descriptions allow one to develop a sense of this regional art, it is a little unclear to me as to why this should necessarily be considered a northern extension of the Carnarvon province to the southeast, to the extent that these regions are seen to display ‘close cultural affinities’. I would encourage a more extended discussion on this important issue with comparative data presented from surrounding districts.

The paper by Campbell. Hatte, Tuniz and Watchman represents a meticulous study in which the accretionary histories of painting and engraving sites have been reliably dated to not only calibrate frequency of painting events (and hence potential site occupation) but also to construct climate history. While the high antiquity of some of the art (eight dates between 10,000 BP and 30,000 BP) is of global interest, I am excited by the prospect that questions of site function and continuity of occupation can be addressed where cultural deposits in caves may be absent, or more commonly, where they have been removed through erosional processes.

Other regional papers deal with the archaeology of art where stylistic chronology is refined (Rosenfeld and Mumford from central Australia), the archaeology of capitalism with focus on the material expression of resistance (Casella on the Ross Female Factory site) and the archaeology of land use, where intensity of Pleistocene occupation patterns in hinterland NSW (Boot) and the nature of human and natural contributors to erosional processes (Boyd and Torrence) are examined.

The final section of the volume, entitled ‘Repatriation Issues in Australian Archaeology’, is a misnomer, as it essentially revolves around the ‘Tasmanian Affair’ and the parties involved in the contested timing of the return of artefacts. A useful introduction is provided by Ross who notes the respective roles and positions of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council (TALC), the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the School of Archaeology of La Trobe University.

Brown’s paper on behalf of TALC argues for the need to develop successful strategies for cooperative research based on the premise of custodial primacy. McGowan reiterates that politicians, NPWS guidelines and the courts have recognised the legitimacy of this premise, although he advocates that sites should not be excavated if reburial is stipulated. Finally, Murray provides a historical overview on the repatriation of the artefacts from La Trobe’s perspective.

What stands out from all of these papers is the inability of the Ministerial consent process (read permit) to adequately define and protect the rights and obligations of the various parties. It is a common experience that heritage agencies are not equipped (or designed) to reconcile such differences. I would suggest that co-operative research projects find expression in contracts, similar to those employed by major land councils in northern and central Australia, thereby protecting the interests of Aboriginal communities and researchers undertaking major and long-term projects.

In conclusion, the editors should be congratulated on the production of such a rich and varied volume. If this volume acts as any sort of litmus test as to the state of the discipline in Australia, then it must be concluded that archaeology is indeed in a healthy and vibrant state.


Bird, C. F. M.and Frankel, D. 1991Chronologyandexplanationin western Victoria and south-east South Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 26(1):1-16.

Frankel, D. 1993 Pleistocene chronological structures and explanations: A challenge. In M.A. Smith, M. Spriggs and B. Frankhauser (eds), Sahul in Review: Pleistocene Archaeology in Australia, New Guinea and Island Melanesia, pp.24- 33. Occasional Papers in Prehistory 24. Canberra: Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University.

Holdaway, S. 1995 Stone artefacts and the Transition. Antiquity 69:784-97.

Lourandos, H. 1983 Intensification: A late Pleistocene-Holocene archaeological sequence from southwestern Victoria. Archaeology in Oceania 18(2):81-94.

Lourandos, H. and Ross, A. 1994 The great ‘intensification’ debate: Its history and place in Australian archaeology. Australian Archaeology 39:54-63.

Richardson, N. A. 1992 Conjoin sets and stratigraphic integrity in a sandstone shelter: Kenniff Cave (Queensland, Australia). Antiquity 66:408-18.

Rick, J. 1987 Dates as data: An examination of the Peruvian preceramic radiocarbon record. American Antiquity 52:55-73.

Veth, P. 1993 The Aboriginal occupation of the Montebello Islands, northwest Australia. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1993(2):39-50.

Williams, E. 1988 Complex Hunter-Gatherers: A Late Holocene Example from Temperate Australia. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 423. Oxford: B.A.R.

Veth, P.
Review of ‘Australian Archaeology ’95: Proceedings of the 1995 Australian Archaeological Association Annual Conference’ edited by Sean Ulm, Ian Lilley and Annie Ross
December 1997
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