Obituary: Graeme Pretty (1940–2000)

13th November 2013

F. Donald Pate and Anthony L. Crawford

Graeme Lloyd Pretty

(b. 25 June 1940, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; d. 6 November 2000, Adelaide, South Australia)

Graeme Pretty (with  megaphone) at Roonka (published in Australian Archaeology 52:61).

Graeme Pretty (with megaphone) at Roonka (published in Australian Archaeology 52:61).

Graeme Pretty was one of the principal figures associated with the development of professional archaeology in the state of South Australia. Graeme served in various curatorial capacities at the South Australian Museum, Adelaide from 1962–1994. These included Assistant Curator of Anthropology (1962–1965), Curator of Archaeology (1965–1973), Senior Curator, Human Science Collections (1973–1985) and Senior Curator of Archaeology (1985–1994). From 1994 until his death, he continued archaeological research as a Research Associate at the South Australian Museum and a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Adelaide.

Graeme completed a BA(Hons) majoring in History and Archaeology in 1960 and a postgraduate Diploma in Education in 1961. Both degrees were awarded by the University of Sydney. Early archaeological fieldwork (1960–1961) involved the mapping and excavation of Pleistocene limestone cave deposits in the coastal Nullarbor Plain region of southwestern South Australia. This research involved an investigation of the Koonalda Cave deposits under the supervision of Sandor (Alexander) Gallus (Gallus and Pretty 1967; Wright 1971).

From 1962–1965, Pretty trained as an Assistant Curator of Anthropology at the South Australian Museum under the supervision of Norman B. Tindale. During this period, he worked with archaeological and ethnographic collections from Australia, the Pacific, Africa and the Americas. In addition, he continued archaeological field training at a range of sites including Fromm’s Landing (Mulvaney et al. 1964) and Durras North Rockshelter (Lampert 1966) and conducted rescue excavations throughout South Australia and in Arnhem Land. Tindale’s close association with local South Australian Indigenous communities had a major impact on the archaeology practiced by Pretty. Graeme involved Aboriginal Elders and community members in all stages of research projects addressing past Indigenous cultures and lifeways.

As Curator of Archaeology at the South Australian Museum, Pretty visited museums in southeast Asia, the United Kingdom and Europe during 1966–1967 in order to become familiar with overseas collections, museum practice and research trends. In addition, he supervised the excavation of Anglo-Saxon town levels at Wallingford Castle, Berkshire, England (Pretty 1967) in association with Dr N. Thomas of the University of St Andrews.

Graeme had a passion for Melanesia, in particular Papua New Guinea. His key research interest was the transition of agriculture and evolution of cultural geography in Melanesia, whereby he studied the finds and uses of prehistoric stone mortars and pestles, found throughout the Highlands of PNG (Pretty 1971a). He served as a commissioner to review the function of the Papua New Guinea Museum and National Gallery in 1968, and during that visit he prepared a report and inventory of cave paintings and associated archaeological sites known to exist at that time. The same year he was a consultant for the Department of District Administration, Territory of Papua New Guinea, to review the Territory of PNG National Property Ordinance of 1965. In 1969 he led the first South Australian Museum collecting expedition to PNG, financed by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and private funding (Pretty 1969). This was an ethnographic salvage program where over 1000 artefacts were collected from two regions in the Southern Highlands. This was the largest single collection at the time to be deposited at the PNG Museum. A similar expedition was carried out in 1970, with visits to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), Solomon Islands and PNG.

Between 1969 and 1973 Graeme also served as Specialist Adviser in Ethnic Art of the Pacific Basin, Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, a Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Pretty 1970a). In 1971 this work developed into an independent field collecting program based upon the dispatch of professional indigenous art researchers to key indigenous art provinces of the Pacific. Their primary goal was to work with surviving indigenous artists of ethnic authenticity in order to revive their work for the purpose of circulating specimens to cultural institutions in Australia and local Pacific Islands. Between 1971 and 1973, indigenous art tradition decline was arrested and reversed in at least five provinces of PNG and Island Melanesia.

One of Graeme’s most significant contributions to Australian Archaeology was his research at the Aboriginal site of Roonka on the lower Murray River of southeastern South Australia. His excavations at Roonka between 1968 and 1977 produced one of the largest well provenanced prehistoric Aboriginal skeletal populations in Australia (Pretty 1970b, 1971b, 1975a, 1977, 1986). The mortuary ‘ variability and elaborate grave goods observed at this huntergatherer site suggested the possibility of a non-egalitarian social organisation. During this time period, hunter-gatherer diversity and social complexity were a focus of archaeological and anthropological research (cf. Lee and DeVore 1968;  Struever 1968; Bettinger and King 1971; King 1976, 1978). Consequently, the Roonka site received a great deal of attention from archaeologists in Australia and abroad.

Pretty’s acute research administration skills were demonstrated in relation to the coordination of large multi- disciplinary research teams associated with the post-excavation analysis of archaeological and physical anthropological evidence recovered from the Roonka site. These research projects required significant long-term funding and resulted in a large number of publications. Specialists from South Australia, interstate and overseas were employed to address a range of research areas including chronology (Prescott 1983; Prescott et al. 1983; Pretty 1977, 1986, 1988; Pate et al. 1998), mortuary practices (Pate 1984; Pardoe 1988; Pretty 1977;), demography (Prokopec 1979), population biology (Brown 1989; Pardoe 1994, 1995; Pietrusewsky 1979, 1984; Pretty et al. 1998), palaeopathology (Campbell and Prokopec 1984; Pretty and Kricun 1989; Prokopec and Pretty 1990, 1991; Simpson et al. 1984;), dental anthropology (Smith et al. 1988, 1989), forensic science (Pounder et al. 1983; Pretty 1975b), palaeodiet (Pate, 1984, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2000; Pate et al. 1991), palaeoecology (Parker 1989; Paton 1983), palaeobotany (Boyd and Pretty 1989), soil chemistry (Pate and Hutton 1988; Pate et al. 1989) and earth sciences (Firman 1984; Rogers 1990). At the time of his death, Graeme was working on several manuscripts summarising archaeological research at Roonka. These manuscripts will be edited by his colleagues and published at a later date.

In relation to the development of tertiary education, Pretty assisted Vincent Megaw (Visual Arts, Flinders University) and Frank Sear (Classics, University of Adelaide) with the foundation of the archaeology teaching program in South Australia. Collaborative teaching arrangements involving a range of archaeologists living in the Adelaide area resulted in the introduction of the following university topics: Archaeology: An Introduction to its History, Techniques and Method-ology (Flinders University 1983), Archaeology 1H (University of Adelaide 1985), Australian Archaeology I (Flinders University 1987) and Australian Archaeology II (Flinders University 1988). The great student interest generated by these topics resulted in the first Archaeology lecturing appointments in South Australia in 1990 (Donald Pate at Flinders University) and 1991 (Margaret O’Hea at the University of Adelaide). In addition, Graeme assisted with the supervision of research students at Honours and higher degree levels and acted as a host to numerous interstate and overseas research scholars. As a result of these efforts, today South Australia has well established archaeological teaching, research, and public education programs involving cooperative relations between staff at Flinders University, Adelaide University, the University of South Australia, the South Australian Museum, CSIRO Land and Water, and a range of other institutions.

Graeme’s long-term dedication to an interdisciplinary and inclusive archaeology had a major impact on the development of the discipline in South Australia and abroad.


Bettinger, R.L. and T.F. King 1971 Interaction and Political Organisation: A theoretical Framework for Archaeology in Owen Valley, California. Archaeological Survey Annual Report 13. Los Angeles: University of California.

Boyd, W.E. and G.L. Pretty, 1989 Some prospects for archaeological palaeobotany in Australia: An example from South Australia. Australian Archaeology 28:40–52.

Brown, P. 1989 Coobool Creek. Terra Australis 13. Canberra: Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University.

Campbell, A.H. and M. Prokopec 1984 Antiquity of tooth avulsion in Australia. The Artefact 8:3–9.

Firman, J.B. 1984 Evolution of Australian landscapes and the physical environment of Aboriginal man. In J.C. Vogel (ed.), Late Cainozoic Palaeoclimates of the Southern Hemisphere, pp.209–220. Rotterdam: Balkema.

Gallus, S.A. and G.L. Pretty 1967 The anthropology and archaeology of the Nullarbor Plain, South Australia. In J.R. Dunkley and T.M.L. Wigley (eds), Caves of the Nullarbor, pp.47–49. Sydney: Speleological Research Council.

King, T.F. 1976 Political Differentiation among Hunter-Gatherers: An Archaeological Test. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of California, Riverside.

King, T.F. 1978 Don’t that beat the band? Non-egalitarian political organisation in prehistoric central California. In C. Redman et al. (eds), Social Archaeology: Beyond Subsistence and Dating, pp.225–248. New York: Academic Press.

Lampert, R.J. 1966 An excavation at Durras North, NSW. Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania 1:83–118.

Lee, R.B. and I. DeVore (eds) 1968 Man the Hunter. Chicago: Aldine.

Mulvaney, D.J., G.H. Lawton and C.R. Twidale 1964 Archaeological excavation of rockshelter No. 6, Fromm’s Landing, South Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 77:479–516.

Pardoe, C. 1988 The cemetery as symbol. The distribution of Aboriginal burial grounds in southeastern Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 23:1–16.

Pardoe, C. 1994 Bioscapes: The evolutionary landscape of Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 29:182–190.

Pardoe, C. 1995 Riverine, biological and cultural evolution in southeastern Australia. Antiquity 69:696–713.

Parker, S. 1989 The Potential of Aboriginal Shell Middens as Indicators of the River Murray’s Pre-Impoundment Ecology. Unpublished BSc(Hons) thesis, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.

Pate, F.D. 1984 Mortuary Practices and Paleodiet as Archaeological Signatures of Social Organisation and Status at Roonka on the lower Murray River of South Australia. Unpublished MA thesis, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Pate, F.D. 1990 Postmortem Chemical Changes in Buried Bone: An Investigation of Environmental Formation Processes at the Roonka Archaeological Site, South Australia. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International.

Pate, F.D. 1995 Stable carbon isotope assessment of hunter-gatherer mobility in prehistoric South Australia. Journal of Archaeological Science 22:81–87.

Pate, F.D. 1997 Bone chemistry and paleodiet: Reconstructing prehistoric subsistence-settlement systems in Australia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 16:103–120.

Pate, F.D. 2000 Bone chemistry and palaeodiet: Bioarchaeological research at Roonka Flat, lower Murray River, South Australia 1983–1999. Australian Archaeology 50:67–74.

Pate, F.D. and J.T. Hutton 1988 The use of soil chemistry data to address post-mortem diagenesis in bone mineral. Journal of Archaeological Science 15:729–739.

Pate, F.D.,  J.T. Hutton and K. Norrish 1989 Ionic exchange between soil solution and bone: Toward a predictive model. Applied Geochemistry 4:303–316.

Pate, F.D., J.T. Hutton, R.A. Gould and G.L. Pretty 1991 Alterations of in vivo elemental dietary signatures in archaeological bone: Evidence from the Roonka Flat dune, South Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 26:58–69.

Pate, F.D., G.L. Pretty, R. Hunter, C. Tuniz and E.M. Lawson 1998 New radiocarbon dates for the Roonka Flat Aboriginal burial ground, South Australia. Australian Archaeology 46:36–37.

Paton, R.C. 1983 Analysis of Aboriginal Subsistence in the Lower Murray District of South Australia. Unpublished BA(Hons) thesis, The Faculties, The Australian National University, Canberra.

Pietrusewsky, M. 1979 Craniometric Variation in Pleistocene Australian and More Recent Australian and New Guinea Populations Studied by Multivariate Procedures. Occasional Papers in Human Biology 2. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Pietrusewsky, M. 1984 Metric and Non-Metric Cranial Variation in Australian Aboriginal Populations Compared with Populations >on the Pacific and Asia. Occasional Papers in Human Biology 3. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Pounder, D.J., M. Prokopec and G.L. Pretty 1983 A probable case of euthanasia amongst prehistoric Aborigines at Roonka, South Australia. Forensic Science International 23:99–108.

Prescott, J.R. 1983 TL dating of sands at Roonka, South Australia. PACT Journal 9:505–512.

Prescott, J.R., H.A. Polach, G.L. Pretty and B.W. Smith 1983 Comparison of 14C and thermoluminescent dates from Roonka, South Australia. PACT Journal 8:205–211.

Pretty, G.L. 1967 Excavations at the Anglo-Saxon site of Wallingford, Berkshire, England. Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia 5(2):3–5.

Pretty, G.L. 1969 Salvage Ethnography in New Guinea: The South Australian Museum Expedition to the Southern Highlands District, Papa, 19681969. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Pretty, G.L. 1970a Report on the Commonwealth Collection of Primitive Art from New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Canberra: Commonwealth Art Advisory Board.

Pretty, G.L. 1970b Excavation of an Aboriginal cemetery on Roonka Station, River Murray. Kalori, Journal of the Museums Association of Australia 38:17.

Pretty, G.L. 1971a Further investigations into Melanesian culture-history: South Australian Museum Field Research in Island Melanesia, 1971. Kalori, Journal of the Museums Association of Australia 42:89–95.

Pretty, G.L. 1971b Excavations at Roonka Station, Lower River Murray, South Australia. Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia 19(9):6–15.

Pretty, G.L. 1975a Archaeology in South Australia: A report on recent work. Australian Archaeology 3:32–39.

Pretty, G.L. 1975b The recovery of human remains for forensic purposes. Proceedings of the Australian Forensic Science Society 1(3):68–74.

Pretty, G.L. 1977 The cultural chronology of the Roonka Flat. In R.V.S. Wright (ed.), Stone Tools as Cultural Markers, pp.288–331. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Pretty, G.L. 1986 Australian history at Roonka. Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia 14:107–122.

Pretty, G.L. 1988 Radiometric chronology and significance of the fossil hominid sequence from Roonka, South Australia. In J.R. Prescott (ed.), Early Man in the Southern Hemisphere. Supplement to Archaeometry: Australasian Studies 1988, pp.S32–S52. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.

Pretty, G.L. and M.E. Kricun 1989 Prehistoric health status of the Roonka population. World Archaeology 21:198–224.

Pretty, G.L., M. Henneberg, K.M. Lambert and M. Prokopec, 1998 Trends in stature in the South Australian Aboriginal Murraylands. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 106:505–514.

Prokopec, M. 1979 Demographical and morphological aspects of the Roonka population. Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania 14:11–26.

Prokopec, M. and G.L. Pretty. 1990 Skeletal aging: Rate of tooth attrition in hunter-gatherer populations, prehistoric Roonka, South Australia. Colloqiae Anthropologicae 14(2):331–334.

Prokopec, M. and G.L. Pretty 1991 Observations on health, genetics and culture from analysis of skeletal remains from Roonka, South Australia. In D.J. Ortner and A.C. Aufderheide (eds), Human Paleopathology: Current Syntheses and Future Options, pp.151–158. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Rogers, P.A. 1990 Late Quaternary stratigraphy of the Roonka archaeological sites. Geological Survey of South Australia Quarterly Geological Notes 113:6–14.

Simpson, D., M. Prokopec, L. Morris. and G.L. Pretty. 1984 Prehistoric craniosynostosis: A case report. Records of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital 3(2):163–168.

Smith, P., M. Prokopec and G. Pretty 1988 Dentition of a prehistoric population from Roonka Flat, South Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 23:31–36.

Smith, P., Y. Wax and F. Adler. 1989 Population variation in tooth, jaw and root size: A radiographic study of two populations in a high-attrition environment. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 79:197–206.

Struever, S. 1968 Woodland subsistence systems in the lower Illinois Valley. In S.R. Binford and L.R. Binford (eds), New Perspectives in Archaeology, pp.285–312. Chicago: Aldine.

Wright, R.V.S. (ed.) 1971 Archaeology of the Gallus Site, Koonalda Cave. Australian Aboriginal Studies 26, Prehistory Series 5. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Pate, F.D. and A.L. Crawford
Obituary: Graeme Pretty (1940–2000)
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