Thesis abstract ‘Off the Shelf, Out of the Museum: The Retrieval of Plant Material from the Australian Archaeological Record’

13th January 2014

Marie Colville

BA(Hons), Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Australian National University, Canberra, November 1995

This thesis reviews techniques currently available for the study of archaeobotanical remains, details current archaeological methods and assesses their potential for retrieval of plant remains. Excavation and curation methodologies frequently ignore the potential of macroscopic plant remains, or contribute to its loss. By investigation of material available from two past excavations, Botobolar 5 rockshelter, NSW (Pearson 1981) and the Seton Site, Kangaroo Island, SA (Lampert 1981) it was possible to characterise the nature and extent of this loss and identify potential sources of more site information.

In the first case study, careful curation of Macrozamia remains from Botobolar 5 allowed a new synthesis of information from ethnobotanical, archaeological, taphonomic and toxicological studies which were not available at the time of excavation. Detoxification of Macrozamia, by roasting alone, is strongly supported for this site. Comparison with similar remains from other sites suggests the feasibility of extending this technique from the Aboriginal groups of northeastern New South Wales to other east coast groups.

The Seton Site case study, though supplying a wider range of curated material, clearly illustrated many of the problems associated with earlier approaches to plants in the Australian archaeological record. Examination of the plant material did not indicate plant subsistence strategies or even the wide diversity of habitats proposed by fauna1 studies. This could have been due to the continual reduction of potential plant data by cultural or environmental factors, or the methods of retrieval practised at this particular site.


Larnpert, R.J. l981 The Great Kartan Mystery. Terra Australis 5. Canberra: Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University.

Pearson, M. 1981 Seen through Different Eyes: Changing Land-Use and Settlement Patterns in the Upper Macquarie River region of NSW, from Prehistoric Times to 1860. Unpublished PhD thesis, Department of Prehistory and Anthropology, The Australian National University, Canberra.

Colville, M.
Thesis abstract 'Off the Shelf, Out of the Museum: The Retrieval of Plant Material from the Australian Archaeological Record'
December 1997
Thesis Abstracts
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