Thesis abstract ‘Reading Archaeological Landscapes – The Surface Aboriginal Record in Western NSW, Australia: Challenges for Cultural Heritage Management’
03rd May 2014
Tessa G. Bryant
PhD, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University, Sydney, March 2014
One of the aims of archaeological investigations of Australian Aboriginal material culture is to understand how Aboriginal people used Australian landscapes in the past. One of the main ways that the Aboriginal archaeological record at a regional scale is interpreted is through the construction of settlement systems. In the Australian arid zone these settlement systems tend to use water availability (both water permanency and distance from source) as predictors of the distribution of the record. In cultural heritage management (CHM) archaeology, as part of the NSW
regulatory framework for Aboriginal archaeology, physical environmental variables are used as predictors for the distribution of the Aboriginal archaeological record. The use of these kinds of environmental variables as predictors is somewhat problematic.
In western NSW surface exposures of stone artefacts (open sites) and heat retainer hearths are common. A large recorded stone artefact assemblage (over 27,000 stone artefacts) and assemblage of heat retainer hearths (over 90 hearths) from surface deposits in the Rutherfords Creek catchment in western NSW was used to test whether water availability did have an impact on assemblage composition and therefore past Aboriginal behaviour. Spatial autocorrelation and one-way ANOVA was used to test the geographical location against a range of assemblage attributes, including artefact density, tool type flake to core ratio and flake to tool ratio, for 97 sample areas spread across the valley floor of Rutherfords Creek. Across the valley floor there were no consistent differences in assemblage composition that indicated a settlement system based on distance from the lake was operating within the single catchment.
The second part of this research examined the surface record at a larger spatial scale. Transect surveys across seven catchments in the Peery section of the Paroo Darling National Park, including the Rutherfords Creek catchment, were used to record artefact presence/absence and density, as well as a range of environmental variables, including dominant geomorphic process, surface visibility, distance from water and landform unit. Statistical tests were used to investigate the relationship between artefact density, commonly recorded in CHM surveys, and the different environmental parameters within and across the catchments. While there was a relationship between some of the variables, particularly the dominant geomorphic process (deposition, erosion or residual), overall none of these variables could account for the current distribution of stone artefacts across the catchments surveyed.
Based on these analyses, the relationship between the distribution of the surface archaeological record and current environmental conditions is not as simple as is generally assumed. More research effort is required before aspects of CHM archaeology, such as significance assessment, can be used to create and preserve a representative sample of the Aboriginal archaeological record, or to provide a good understanding of the regional archaeological record and the behavioural interpretations that are made from it.