Specimens and Stone Tools: Aboriginalism and Depictions of Indigenous Australians in Archaeological Textbooks

01st December 2007

Belinda Liebelt

BArch(Hons), Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, April 2005

This thesis explores the ways in which academic archaeological research has contributed to knowledge about past Aboriginal lifeways. In particular, it examines the specific construction of Indigenous Australian history in three archaeological volumes written by one of Australia’s most well known ‘prehistorians’, John Mulvaney. These three texts are Mulvaney’s Prehistory of Australia published in 1969, 1975 and 1999, the last co-authored with Johan Kamminga.

The study is an attempt to consider specific ways in which an acknowledged academic archaeologist has taken an active and dynamic role in shaping Australian perceptions, politics, legislation and social opinions about Indigenous Australians’ past, through the production of knowledge. It uses key concepts of knowledge/power formulated by Michel Foucault, and Edward Said’s notion of Orientalism, to extract and analyse meaningful information from the text and the images.

The study maintains that mainstream contemporary ‘prehistoric’ archaeology has largely remained unchallenged as a colonial Aboriginalist discourse on the Indigenous Australian past. Postprocessual and postcolonial archaeological practices have become extremely popular in Australian archaeology, but have done little to dislodge the conventional notions of Aboriginality as expressed in textual discourse. This thesis explores the particular ways in which textual discourse continues to perpetuate colonial attitudes and depictions within our archaeological discipline.

Belinda Liebelt
Specimens and Stone Tools: Aboriginalism and Depictions of Indigenous Australians in Archaeological Textbooks
December 2007
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Thesis Abstracts
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