Review of ‘Aboriginal Archaeological Investigations in the Barwon Drainage Basin’ by Thomas Richards and Joanne Jordan

13th November 2013

Aboriginal Archaeological Investigations in the Barwon Drainage Basin‘ by Thomas Richards and Joanne Jordan. Occasional Report 50, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 1999, xi + 221pp. ISBN 0-730-65120-7 (pbk).

Reviewed by Mark Rawson

This monograph presents the results of an archaeological survey undertaken in the Barwon River Drainage Basin of south-western Victoria in 1995 by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria as part of its State-wide Survey Program. Its aims were to record the nature and preservation of the Aboriginal archaeological resource with a view to develop predictive models.

The volume consists of ten chapters and three appendices. Each chapter begins with a convenient plain English summary. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the 3680 km2 catchment, which covers a range of environmental zones from the southern coast to mountain foothills and inland plains. Most of the book (Chapters 2–6), reports on original fieldwork on the plains around Inverleigh township. Chapter 2 introduces the Inverleigh study area. Other chapters describe survey strategy and methods (Chapter 3), survey results, including site descriptions (Chapter 4), stone artefact analysis (Chapter S), survey analysis, discussion, and predictive model development (Chapter 6), and review of previous archaeological research in the Bellarine Peninsula (Chapter 7) and Upper Barwon study areas (Chapter 8). Chapter 9 is a summary of our knowledge of the Aboriginal archaeology of the Barwon Drainage Basin, while Chapter 10 examines cultural heritage management and Aboriginal community involvement.

The authors present background information to set the scene with sections on geomorphology, geology, pre- European flora and fauna, ethnography, ethnohistory, European history and previous archaeological research including descriptions of seven previously recorded burial and artefact scatter sites (Chapter 2). Amateur artefact collecting in the Inverleigh area is reviewed, an activity which has clearly depleted the surface archaeological record.

Due to the large area of the basin, three study areas were chosen as representative of the range of environmental zones found in the upper, middle and lower reaches of the Barwon. Two of these, the Bellarine Peninsula (coastal/estuarine) and the Upper Barwon (foothills/mountains of Otway Range) had previously been the subject of extensive archaeological investigation and were not surveyed. The third study area at Inverleigh, in the middle Barwon, was chosen for intensive investigation using a random sampling strategy which included surface survey and sub-surface shovel testing. Other non-randomly selected areas with good surface visibility were also examined. This 56 square kilometre study area was selected to include major and minor watercourses, e.g. Barwon and Leigh Rivers and Native Hut Creek. It is part of the traditional territory of the Borogundidj (Leigh River) people, of the Wada Wurrung linguistic group (p. 11).

Fifty-seven new sites were recorded, mostly surface artefact scatters. Not one of the 466 x 50 cm2 shovel test pits, dug at 10 m intervals in the randomly selected quadrats, yielded artefacts. These results lead the authors to evaluate and discuss the effectiveness of their sampling strategy which has implications for future large scale survey projects in Victoria. They found that while a random approach is usually suitable for large area survey, it was of limited use in Victoria due to problems of poor ground surface visibility and denial of access by landowners. They suggest a strategy of dividing the study area into environmental zones, and investigating locations of good ground surface visibility within each (p. 147).

A large number (1264) of flaked stone artefacts recorded in the field are analysed and compared with 224 from the Hammet Collection, a private collection from surface sites in the Inverleigh area (Appendices A and B). There are drawings of selected artefacts, e.g. cores and retouched artefacts. In addition, pecked and ground stone tools in the Hammet Collection are described, and shown with a couple of excellent drawings. Both assemblages had a similar range of technological classes, retouched artefact types, and raw materials (p.83). Quartz and silcrete dominate. A range of site activities from tool production to maintenance are represented. Most of the field recorded assemblage was unretouched debitage with lesser numbers of cores and retouched artefacts. Study of the private collection revealed definite collector bias in favour of cores, retouched artefacts and ground or pecked items (p.108). This is a good example of how the study of earlier amateur collections can fill in some of the gaps in the surface archaeological record.

Artefacts typical of the Australian Small Tool Tradition were found across the study area, leading the authors to postulate that the majority of sites probably date to between 5000–150 years BP. However, no dates (or artefacts!) were obtained from the excavations. The authors attempt to estimate site age by looking at the landforms they exist on of known geological age (pp.114–116), inferring that those that lack evidence of the ASTT may be of late Pleistocene or Holocene ages. This is not very convincing, as they themselves admit, and needs to be backed up with more technological analyses and/or excavation.

A statistical analysis of site density and environmental data (Chapter 6) resulted in a predictive model which divides the study area into two zones of archaeological sensitivity. Zone 1 includes land within 300 m of permanent freshwater which is of highest sensitivity. The authors found that archaeological sites tended to be located close to freshwater sources, especially permanent sources in the river valleys, where plant and animal foods were more varied and plentiful (p.124). A tentative model of seasonal occupation is offered, with dispersed occupation in wet/dry months and dry/warm months spent near permanent water, but this is not backed up with any evidence.

The other study areas (Bellarine Peninsula, Upper Barwon) are examined in Chapters 7 and 8. The Upper Barwon had already been studied by one of the authors (Richards) who produced a predictive model of site distribution and density for the Otway Range. Bellarine Peninsula had been subject to years of amateur and professional archaeological studies. This work is well reviewed and presented in text, maps and tables. After reviewing all the data for the Barwon River Drainage Basin the authors conclude that areas of highest sensitivity are the coast, the vicinity of freshwater sources, and the foothills of the Otway Range (p.147). They project a figure of more than 33,000 potential sites in the whole catchment, with 9 sites per square kilometre.

Overall, the study is a commendable attempt at a systematic approach to regional archaeological survey. It provides a large body of new data, much of it in concise table form, along with analyses and discussion which will be of use to future researchers and cultural heritage managers. GIS maps are shown throughout the book which accurately locate the study areas, sample quadrats, and sites recorded. These are mostly very good although some get a bit crowded (Fig. 6, p.12; Fig. 9, p.34). It is a pity that there are no photographs (except for a rather unclear photo on the cover). Such visual aids would help the reader gain an impression of the study area, work undertaken, and artefacts recorded. Perhaps future AAV occasional reports could address this? Editorial errors are minimal (I counted only 13), but include some misspelt species names (e.g. p.16). There could have been some evaluation of the archaeological training for local Aboriginal communities, an aim that was mentioned in the introduction but not addressed later.

All in all, this book may be of interest to future researchers and land managers in the region, archaeologists working in cultural heritage management or those planning to undertake regional archaeological surveys. It has much new data and represents a lot of work by many people, with a price that is not outrageous.

Rawson, M.
Review of 'Aboriginal Archaeological Investigations in the Barwon Drainage Basin' by Thomas Richards and Joanne Jordan
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