Online thesis abstracts can be found here!

From 2016 onwards thesis abstracts will be uploaded to the AAA website, and you can peruse recent theses by university below.

Australian National University

Technological Organisation and Points in the Southern Kimberley

Tim Ryan Maloney

Department of Archaeology and Natural History,
School of Culture History and Language,
Australian National University
PhD Thesis

submitted May 2015


The anthropogenic manipulation of stone is ubiquitous in every part of the world, throughout human prehistory. The durability of stone technologies creates an enduring material link between the tool maker and the archaeologist, particularly in Australia, where stone tools are a dominant component of the extant archaeological record, and as such, provide fundamental access to our understanding of the technology and lifeways of Australia’s Indigenous ancestors. This research, which is part of the ARC Linkage project: Lifeways of the First Australians, analyses stone artefacts from excavated and surface assemblages in the southern Kimberley region. This thesis by compilation focuses on the technological development of points, which are a distinctive, Holocene component of the Australian lithic suite, in order to test a series of hypotheses, which are presented in a collection of published manuscripts, and unpublished manuscripts currently being reviewed.

Lithic artefacts are produced by reduction. When a stone is worked into a tool, it reduces in size, with some fragments resulting in usable pieces, others in debitage. The process of reduction forms the basic premise for this thesis, where reduction is quantified by a morphological methodology outlined in Chapters 1 and 2, and applied to a number of assemblages in order to reconstruct the life history of stone tools from the Kimberley region (Chapters 3 – 7). Chapter 3 presents a robust chronology for point technology in the Kimberley region, where direct percussion points first appear in the archaeological record between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago, and Kimberley Points appear within the last 1,000 years. Chapter 4 provides detailed examination of a large, excavated point assemblage from the Mt Behn rock shelter. This analysis demonstrates that points were produced within a reduction continuum, where changes in reduction intensity and artefact morphology were sensitive to environmental change during the mid to late Holocene. Chapter 5 presents analyses of multiple surface assemblages across the Kimberley, where backing technology is shown to be a regular component of point technologies. The presence of the Kimberley Backed Point challenges the existing model of spatial distributions of backing in Australia. Chapter 6 presents a remarkable point from Carpenters Gap 1, which was recovered with sizable portions of adhering hafting resin, an organic resin which was directly dated. This artefact provides the most compelling evidence for hafting technology used in the mid to late Holocene, and reveals that people were hafting small, lightly reduced points with both mastic and binding. Chapter 7 employs a novel approach to model the level of pedagogy, or teaching and learning, present in two different point reduction sequences. This manuscript demonstrates that pedagogy can be gleaned from stone artefact assemblages, and shows that Kimberley Points represent a shift towards a greater emphasis on a formal pedagogy within the last millennium of Kimberley prehistory. Finally, this thesis culminates in Chapter8, which presents a summary of the conclusions and discussions offered throughout the manuscripts, and recommends areas of research for further investigation.


Flinders University

Dominant Ideologies: A Study of Social Class and Status in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, South Australia

Owen Hems

Department of Archaeology,
Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law,
Flinders University
Master of Archaeology and Heritage

Submitted June 2016


Despite recent claims of a classless society, or that class is ‘dead’ (see, for example, Beck 1986 and Pakulski and Waters 1996), it remains fundamental to understanding and interpreting the recent past. In some ways, the denial of class has been compounded by the nature of archaeology and the historical record, both of which have traditionally served middle class interests and perspectives. Despite this, several archaeologies of class have challenged and contradicted existing interpretations and histories by revealing the stories of the working classes and minority groups that had been misrepresented or ignored by the dominant history. However, such a study of class has yet to be undertaken in the archaeology of South Australian cemeteries.

This thesis seeks to address this gap through a study of memorialisation practices (headstones, grave furniture and printed death and other funeral notices) in nineteenth and twentieth century Adelaide, South Australia. Physical monuments from West Terrace Cemetery, and other, written, forms of commemoration, such as death notices, In Memoriams and obituaries, were analysed to understand the individual, personal, response to death, and the broader social structures and ideologies which structured, and were embodied in, individual practices, ideas and emotions. Through this understanding, it is argued that commemorative practices and the cemetery in the nineteenth century played an active role in maintaining and legitimating the dominance of the middle class, as well as reflecting growing class consciousness and conflict as different classes asserted their own views, tastes and practices. This changed in the twentieth century however as the growing privatisation of grief and disassociation of class identities that followed the First World War and Great Depression caused commemorative practices to become increasingly uniform, denying the existence of class. The dominance of the middle class was then masked through ideologies of individualism, gentility and respectability that identified the right characteristics that were the key to success and social status, denying class and the barriers and social determinants of success. These ideologies maintained and reproduced the social structure, as adhering to the ideals of respectability was the key for individuals to gain and maintain their social status.

PDF available here.

Beck, U. 1986 Risk Society. London: Sage.

Pakulski, J. and M. Waters 1996 The Death of Class. London: Sage.

Them Bones, Them Bones: A Technological and Functional Analysis of the faunal Bone Artefacts from Ngaut Ngaut (Devon Downs), South Australia.

Sarah Hutchinson

Department of Archaeology,
Flinders University
Adelaide, South Australia

submitted November 2013

This thesis has utilised a technological and functional approach to assess the bone tools at Ngaut Ngaut. Changes over time in relation to these issues have also been addressed.

Taking into account preservation issues and results from neighbouring sites it can be suggested that bone tools were not used as regularly in more recent times. This finding is in line with previous research.

This research has also for the first time presented results on the species used to make bone tools in a detailed and thorough manner. I can conclude that macropods were the primary animal used. Of note this research has also reclassified species and added new information in this regard.

This research also shows that the people using the Ngaut Ngaut rockshelter preferred making bone tools out of fibulae, which was proven to be the case over a long period of time.

Grinding has been revealed to be the most common form of bone modification. This technological conclusion is one of many new insights about the manufacture of artefacts at Ngaut Ngaut. Polish also featured as a common modification by anthropogenic means.

Webb’s (1987) experimental research was trialled to infer how bone tools were used at Ngaut Ngaut. This application produced mixed results and whilst a number of activities have been suggested (e.g., piercing bark and incising wood) these results should be considered preliminary.

Taking into account the above considerations it is suggested that the use of bone tools at Ngaut Ngaut possibly fluctuates over time. It is also apparent that people using the rockshelter had and maintained preferences in relation to the animals and animal parts used to make bone tools.

A Technological Analysis of Stone Artefacts from Allen’s Cave, South Australia

Simon Munt

Department of Archaeology,
Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law,
Flinders University
Master of Archaeology and Heritage Management thesis (by coursework with a research component)

submitted June 2016

This thesis presents the first technological analysis of previously excavated stone artefact assemblages from Allen’s Cave, South Australia. Recent climate proxy records for the Allen’s Cave region indicate that during the period from initial human occupation to the mid-Holocene, 39,800 ± 3100 BP to 5000 BP, two significant environmental fluctuations occurred. The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; c. 30,000–19,000 BP) brought hyper-aridity never previously or since encountered by Aboriginal Australians, while local conditions during the early Holocene (c. 11,000–8000 BP) were relatively favourable. Using a technological approach, the lithics from before, during and after the LGM and early Holocene are analysed in order to examine whether, and if so how, inhabitants of this arid zone rockshelter responded to the contrasting environments through their stone technology. Based on this analysis, contributions are made to the ongoing consideration of two major models concerning the past human use of Australia’s arid zone during climatic changes: ‘refuges, barriers and corridors’ (Veth 1989) and ‘desert transformation’ (Hiscock and Wallis 2005).

Results demonstrate that little technological change occurred during the human occupation of Allen’s Cave, corroborating a conclusion shared by previous analysts Ljubomir Marun (1972) and Scott Cane (1995). While there was technological continuity from before and during the LGM, evidence shows a combination of consistency and behavioural change in the early Holocene. The appearance in the assemblage of non-local lithic raw material for the first time at c. 11,000 BP indicates trade/exchange and/or the possible expansion of foraging range by inhabitants of Allen’s Cave. Contemporaneous improvement in local environmental conditions may have partly precipitated such behavioural change. A combination of evidence, however, suggests non-environmental factors, and the continuity of the LGM lithics indicates that the hyper-aridity of this period may not have catalysed behavioural change as suggested by previous models.

 ‘Where did they come from?’ Baseline stable isotope mapping of the Adelaide Plains

Lee Rippon

College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Archaeology, Flinders University
Master of Archaeology and Heritage Management
Submitted June 2018

The research has created strontium and oxygen isotope baseline maps to understand better the diet, climate, landscape use, mobility, and hunting mobility of hunter-gatherer groups located in Adelaide, South Australia. These maps will allow, for the first time, accurate provenancing of artefacts, faunal and skeletal remains from archaeological sites located in the Adelaide region.

This research applies laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-MC-ICPMS), thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS), and isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) to 9 teeth and 9 bone samples. The faunal samples come from mammals with a limited mobility ranges (such as koalas and rats) from locations representing the major geological and physiographic regions in the Adelaide area. Bioavailable strontium isotope values obtained from the Adelaide Geosyncline have the range of 0.71222045±0.00020–0.72022698±0.0020, and samples from the Adelaide Plains have values in the range of 0.709800±0.0002–0.712071±0.000096. While samples from the alluvial fan sediments near the Eden-Burnside Fault at the boundary between these regions have the values of 0.71305±0.00011–0.71365±0.00018. Oxygen isotope results (δ18OC (PDB)) show variation over the range of -9.55– -4.51 that is independent of elevation or rainfall and is probably strongly seasonally controlled.

The results demonstrated that the stable strontium isotopes were potentially an important tool that can enable discrimination between provenance within the Adelaide area, and that oxygen isotope are probably a more appropriate tool for discriminating seasonality rather than location in this region. This research suggests that koalas are better suited for mapping isoscapes than rats, presumably because of their limited mobility and that, while (non-systematic) offsets appear to exist between LA-MC-ICPMS and TIMS data these values are not sufficient to prevent geological providences within the region from being distinguished. The results for this research make up the baseline dataset.


James Cook University

More than Dots on Maps: GIS Viewshed Analysis and Australian Indigenous Archaeology

Wayne Beck

College of Arts, Society and Education,
James Cook University, Townsville Campus
BA (Hons)

Submitted December, 2016.

GIS viewshed analysis centred in the ceremonial stone arrangement (Site ID 36, yellow plus sign), showing the Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and cultural heritage sites (type by colour).

The areas shown in red denote what can be seen from this particular point in the landscape.

GIS viewshed analysis is used in archaeological research to determine the potential visibility and intervisibility between sites and the wider landscape. This work has been largely concerned with settlement choices, location and site placement of built ‘monumental’ structures in the Old and New Worlds to identify archaeological patterns and to explore the visual organisation of features across the landscape. In Australian Indigenous archaeology, viewshed analysis, as an investigative methodology, has not been similarly utilised because ‘monuments’, as defined in traditional monumental archaeology, are not found in the Australian Indigenous landscape.

The idea that ceremonial areas are hidden or secluded has been implied in previous Australian archaeological literature. This thesis utilises a GIS viewshed analysis for a ceremonial stone arrangement and other sites in the wider landscape of northwestern Queensland to explore this issue.  In particular, the intervisibility of sites is examined and interpreted in relation to ceremonial activities, using phenomenological and landscape theoretical approaches to the concept of monuments.

Information for this research has been drawn from a mining cultural heritage database, or what is argued as a collection of ‘dots on maps’. This data has inherent limitations as it is only designed to comply with regulatory frameworks. In this thesis, the archaeological research potential of this information is assessed by the generation of six GIS viewshed analyses. Preliminary results suggest that the stone arrangement was deliberately placed in a wide, open plain but is not visible from other documented archaeological sites. In addition, there is little to no intervisibility between these sites.

The research illustrates that the combination of GIS viewshed analysis, made possible by a cultural heritage database, can provide a valuable research tool, particularly when combined with phenomenological and landscape approaches in the Australian Indigenous context.

Art and Identity: Aboriginal rock art and dendroglyphs of Queensland’s Wet Tropics

Alice Buhrich

College of Arts, Society and Education,
James Cook University, Cairns

Submission date: Oct 2017

URL Link to online thesis:

The author measuring the Windsor Tableland ‘Quinkan’ dendroglyph, September 2015. This tree has since fallen down.

That is a cassowary foot…and we are the cassowary clan.

Dugulbarra fieldworker’s initial reaction to locating a Wet Tropics dendroglyph (March 2014).

Identity is a key concept in Australian rock art research. Archaeological interpretations of rock imagery recognise that motifs and their production convey information, not just about the artist, but also about the cultural and social context in which motifs were produced. Rock art studies provide a unique window into the world view of the artists that is not available through other archaeological material. Aboriginal custodians are also interested in the relationship between imagery and identity, often through a lens that does not separate the social, cultural and physical landscapes. Dendroglyphs, although rare, offer similar opportunities to explore visual expression, identity and place.

The Wet Tropics of Queensland offers a unique set of circumstances to investigate style in Late Holocene visual culture. The rock art, affected by the high humidity, was probably created relatively recently (Edwards 2007; Gunn and Thorn 1994; Ward et al. 1995) while dendroglyphs, only as old as the trees on which they are carved, are not likely to exceed a few hundred years in age (Buhrich et al. 2016). In this thesis, I explore the relationships between rock art, dendroglyphs and language in the Wet Tropics of north Queensland to understand relationships between stylistic choices and social context. My research identifies the fact that that rock art production was, and continues to be, strongly linked to cultural identity. However, in the Wet Tropics at least, language was not the main factor in determining style in either rock art or dendroglyphs. Across Australia, Aboriginal social and cultural identity was multi-faceted and individuals belonged to a complex web of intersecting identities that included language, clan, totems and moieties. While language has emerged as the most significant in post-colonial Australia, my findings suggest this may not always have been the case.

Wet Tropics Aboriginal groups have consistently voiced the need for researchers to collaborate with them in all stages of research. My research design responds to this by incorporating both formal and informed approaches through quantitative (site and motif recording) and qualitative methods (multiple interviews with relevant Aboriginal people). By combining these forms of data, the rock art and dendroglyphs can be studied within context of broader Aboriginal cultural landscapes.

Forty-five rock art sites and twelve dendroglyph sites were examined, in six language areas. While similarities identify a Wet Tropics rock art style characterised by painting as the main technique, significant differences were found between rock art styles in the eastern and western zones of the study area which, in some cases, intersect linguistic boundaries. Dendroglyphs, found in the east, where figurative designs dominate the rock art corpus, are mostly non-figurative like the western style rock art. Furthermore, dendroglyphs and rock art are found in different contexts, suggesting that, as forms of visual expression, they had distinct roles. Today, rock art sites and dendroglyphs continue to be highly significant to Aboriginal people, as part of a living cultural landscape that incorporates story places, walking tracks and ceremonial sites.

A Spatial Analytical Approach to Indigenous Fishtraps: Using High-Resolution UAS Photogrammetry and GIS in the Investigation of Kaiadilt Aboriginal Stone-Walled Intertidal Fishtraps, Gulf of Carpentaria

Anna Kreij

College of Arts, Society and Education,
James Cook University
MSocSci (Archaeology)

Submitted October 2016

Indigenous stone-walled intertidal fishtraps are a prominent feature of the intertidal coastal archaeological record across Australia. The role of fishtraps in food production, demarcation of land ownership and ceremonial landscapes has drawn the attention of many, yet the level of detail in documentation is highly varied and scholarly fishtrap knowledge is sparse. With the aim to create a replicable, robust recording and analytical methodology to improve understandings of fishtraps, fishtrap placement, construction and function is assessed through high-resolution photogrammetric Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) documentation. The high accuracy data acquisition enables assessment of fishtrap location in the landscape, which controls function with current tidal conditions, and allows modelling of past sea-level scenarios in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The spatial analysis demonstrates the stone-walled intertidal fishtraps of Sweers Island in the South Wellesley Islands, Gulf of Carpentaria, to be operating most efficiently at present mean-sea level (PMSL) throughout the year. With reference to a local sea-level curve, the structures are likely to have been constructed within the last 2,000 years, as their working range precludes function during low-tide with sea-levels greater than PMSL. The empirical data contributes to broader theoretical discussion of Aboriginal Australian hunter-gatherer behaviour, including intensification in the mid-to-late Holocene, and presents the opportunity to consider the anthropogenic structures within a Niche Construction Theory (NCT) framework. The quantitative recording technique, analytical procedure and terminology developed here, provide an opportunity to improve recording methodologies of large-scale stone features, and standardise documentation of stone-walled intertidal fishtrap sites.

Tracing Personal Ornaments: A Minero-Petrographic Study to Source the Manufacture and Distribution of Stone Bangles Found at Ban Non Wat, Thailand

Ashlee Litfin

School of Arts and Social Sciences,
James Cook University
BA(Hons) (Archaeology)

submitted April 2014

Marble bangles are a type of personal ornament characteristic of the Bronze Age in Southeast Asia. They are generally recovered from contexts dating c.3000–2500 years ago. While common finds, many questions remain: where did they come from, how were they made, and by whom? Determining the provenance of geological artefacts involves many elements, each of which has their own importance. The aim of this study is to determine a route for bangle stone between Ban Non Wat, Thailand, and the closest geological source. Through analysis of the visible characteristics of a selection of ‘marble bangles’ from Ban Non Wat, the material type of the stone bangle is first determined to be either marble or limestone. These are then compared with the results from previous chemical analysis undertaken on the bangles. Chemical analysis of the bangles determined that the stone was all from one source, and analysis on samples from local quarry sites showed the possibility of the stone originating from Ban Rai quarry in the southwest corner of the Khorat Plateau. The analysis from the visible characteristics of this quarry further established the possible link between Ban Rai and Ban Non Wat as most samples from this site were identified as marble. This analysis made it possible to rule out certain areas of Thailand, or South East Asia, from which the bangle stone may have been sourced. This data in combination with relevant palaeoenvironmental, geological and archaeological data was used to create a model of potential areas in Southeast Asia and southern China from which the bangles could have been sourced. The results of this analysis showed that there are three possible sources of bangle stone within reach of the Khorat Plateau. Each of these sources had potential trade routes either overland or by waterways. Control and manufacture of the trade is dependent on which of these sources the bangle stone came from.

Thesis can be found online here!

Monash University

Art of the Ancestors: Spatial and temporal patterning in the rock art of Nawarla Gabarnmang, a major Jawoyn cultural site on the Arnhem Land plateau

Robert G. Gunn

Monash Indigenous Study Centre,
Monash University
PhD thesis

Submitted October, 2016

Nawarla Gabarnmang is a large and well-decorated rock art shelter on the Arnhem Land plateau, northern Australia. The site has an occupational history extending back approximately 50,000 years; the question remains: how old is the art, and how has it changed through time over this long period of time?

In this thesis I develop a new systematic approach to the archaeological recording and documentation of rock art. From this I study the spatial and temporal structure of the art on the ceiling of Nawarla Gabarnmang, a site with one of the richest arrays of art and art styles in Arnhem Land. It is the combination of recording and analytical techniques used in this that forms the cornerstone of the thesis.

Detailed photo-tracing using DStretch-enhanced photographs enabled me to identify 1391 motifs from 41 separate art panels. From this, a comprehensive list of all motif superimpositions was made, and a Harris Matrix of superimpositions was built for each art panel. Using common attributes, including features identified by the Morellian Method (a Fine Art method), contemporaneous motifs within panels were then aggregated into individual art horizons. Where direct dating of the artwork or other temporal markers were available, individual panel horizons were dated, giving some panels dated chronological sequences. I conclude that the existing artwork was produced over a period that began no earlier than 13,000 years ago and ceased sometime between AD 1840 and AD 1935. The horizons for the various panels were then inter-related by using the relative and absolute chronological evidence to produce a full sequence for the site as a whole.

The principle finding for Nawarla Gabarnmang’s rock art is a major and rapid change in artistic conventions around 450 years ago. At this time white pigment replaced red as the dominant colour; larger motifs, utilising far greater quantities of pigment than previously, became more common and, where employed, infill decoration becomes considerably more intricate. This change in the art is not reflected in any major change in the choice or proportions of general thematic groups depicted (such as specific faunal taxa or anthropomorphic categories). The most recent period of artistic activity occurred within the past 170 years, and probably within the past 100 years, when complex X-ray depictions akin to those better known from the northern half of Arnhem Land made their first appearance.

Ultimately, the combination of analytical techniques employed (DStretch, Harris Matrix and Morellian Method) was found to be invaluable in resolving many of the difficult issues relating to the identification of motif superimpositions in a large and complex art site. The thesis suggests that the techniques in combination would benefit rock art recording worldwide.


La Trobe University

A Faunal and Nutritional Analysis of the Brown Creek 3 Marine Shell Midden, South-Western Victoria

Emmy Frost

Department of Archaeology and History,
La Trobe University
Bachelor of Archaeology (Hons)

submitted October 2015


This thesis examines the changes in shell abundance and taxa within the marine faunal assemblage from the Late Holocene site of Brown Creek 3 in south-western Victoria, Australia, in order to provide an insight to human coastal resource selection in this region. This is achieved by combining both an archaeological faunal analysis and a modern nutritional analysis of fresh molluscs from the surrounding area, examining the total quantity of fat and the specific fatty acids within the molluscs as well as thirteen important trace elements. The faunal results demonstrate that the site was a multi-occupational cultural shell midden dominated by Austromytilus rostratus (Beaked Mussel) shell, whilst the nutritional analysis concluded that the molluscs are low in fat, but the quality of this fat is high. This would make them desirable resources considering the low energy expenditure required to collect them. An analysis of ethnographic sources suggests that molluscs were supplemental to a wider and more varied diet, rather than the sole sources of nutrition, but were culturally and nutritionally significant resources for women and children.


University of Queensland

Identifying Prehistoric Interaction on Rapa Nui (Easter Island): Modelling the Development of Social Complexity in Extreme Isolation

Dale F. Simpson Jr. (Ph.D., M.A., Postgrad Dip., B.A.)

The University of Queensland – School of Social Science

Ph.D. Archaeology

November 2019

URL; DOI link:;


Movement of basaltic material as identified by Simpson (2019).

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) has been the subject of various scientific investigations. Much of this work has been dedicated to moai (statues) and ahu (platforms) and how these megalithic features venerated the island’s chiefly ancestors and supported sociopolitical organisation, ideological communication, economic (re)distribution, and elite management over the island’s ancient political economy. Although moai and ahu have been studied for centuries, archaeological investigation of the island’s many basalt sources and artefacts, including their geological provenance and geochemistry, has been minimal. Consequently, this lack of comprehensive geochemistry for basalt sources and artefacts has restricted the potential of ancient interaction studies on Rapa Nui.

To fill this gap in the archaeological literature, the “Rapa Nui Geochemical Project (RNGP)” was established in 2013. The main goals of the RNGP include: 1) to identify, geologically, the various types of basalt used archaeologically and document the stages of production for artefacts and construction stones; 2) to elucidate spatial and temporal patterns of basalt acquisition, transfer, and use; 3) to delineate economic, ideological, and sociopolitical interaction, including pathways that accompanied and facilitated stone exchange between members of the ancient Rapanui culture; 4) to highlight the attributes of Rapa Nui’s chiefly controlled ancient political economy through documenting the spatial and temporal distributions of archaeological basalt industries; 5) to evaluate economic and sociopolitical interpretations put forward by the ‘ecocide’ or ‘collapse’ narrative (Bahn and Flenley 1992; Diamond 1995, 2005); and 6) to create public archaeology and educational opportunities for the local Rapa Nui community.

Over six years, the RNGP collaborated with more than 30 individuals from 20 institutions from around the globe to conduct field archaeology (four campaigns from 2014–2018), geoarchaeological and material culture documentation (SLR camera and drone photos/videos and artefactual 3D scanning), geochemical analyses (inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry and portable x–ray fluorescence), radiometric dating (14C), artistic site reconstructions, and educational outreach.

RNGP results from six study areas reveal a diversity of operational sequences for basalt tool making which parallels the numerous economic, ideological and sociopolitical pathways used by the ancient Rapanui to acquire basalt for artefact and construction stone creation. The RNGP geochemically identified eight unique basalts during analysis and highlighted how quarries and sources at Ava oʻKiri and Pu Tokitoki provided most of the material used to manufacture the sample of basalt artefacts (adzes, picks, knives, and axes) analysed in this study.

Four pathways for the transfer of basalt were uncovered in this investigation, they included, opportunistic, communal, and confederation and elite (re)distribution. Thus, the complexity of interaction outlined in this Ph.D. thesis refutes economic and sociopolitical propositions put forward by the ‘collapse narrative’ for Rapa Nui’s pre–contact period. Instead, it establishes the common interaction and collaboration within and between mata (clans) and the two island confederations that existed during the island’s past, especially regarding the access to and use of culturally valuable stone such as basalt.

The University of Sydney

Place-attachment in heritage theory and practice: a personal and ethnographic study

Steve Brown

Department of Archaeology,
The University of Sydney

submitted September 2015


The thesis is a critical study of the concept of place-attachment in Australian heritage practice and its application in this field.

Place-attachment is typically characterised as a form of intangible heritage arising from interactions between people and place. I trace how this meaning borrows from concepts in psychology and geography and argue that the idea of place-attachment is often applied uncritically in heritage conservation because the field lacks a body of discipline-specific theory. It is my thesis that place-attachment can be conceptualised in a way that is more amenable to effective heritage management practice than is currently the case.

I construct a concept of place-attachment that draws on a notion of intra-action and theories of attachment, agency and affect. I define place-attachment as a distributed phenomenon that emerges through the entanglements of individuals or groups, places and things. This meaning is interrogated via four case studies – each centred on a home and garden (including my own) and Anglo-Australians – by applying a methodology that is primarily self-referential and auto-ethnographic. Topics that emerge from the field data, including life stages (i.e. childhood-adulthood attachment), generational transfer, and experiential understanding or empathy, are examined and shown to offer support for a concept of place-attachment as entanglement.

The thesis findings have implications for heritage practice. A framework of entanglement over interaction calls for recognition of intra-active assemblages in preference to intangible meanings; dynamism and multi-temporality over stasis and a distant past; the power of personal heritage alongside authorised, collective forms; and situated, relational ethics together with place-centred values.

Access this thesis online here!


Household Activities at Pella and Tell en-Naṣbeh

Michael Everett

Department of Archaeology, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry
The University of Sydney
BA (Hons)

Submitted October 2016

This study looks at the evidence for household activity-areas at the Iron Age sites of Pella and Tell en-Naṣbeh in the Southern Levant. The aim was to determine if the inhabitants had a tendency towards using specific spaces for specific activities and whether there was a difference in the type and intensity of any hypothetical spatial patterning between the two sites. Using ceramic, small finds and architectural evidence from a range of houses at these sites, frequencies of different functional categories are calculated. It is then demonstrated that the inhabitants generally kept to the basic domestic activities of cooking, eating and storage with a few exceptions at either site. The chi square statistical test is used to analyse the probability of an existing pattern in the distribution of artefacts. It is concluded that the results do not permit a serious argument for the existence of defined activity areas on the basis of the data gathered. The results are then compared with each other and put into a wider context. Although the range of activities and their distribution were similar at both sites, there were some notable differences in the presence of fixed features. Some tentative explanations for these differences are offered.

This thesis explores the possibilities of the household approach to understanding past realities and making sense of past processes but also the dangers and challenges that go with spatial analysis and the use of legacy data. In particular, the issue of taphonomic processes is considered important as well as difficulties in the interpretation of artefact use. Nevertheless, it shows the applicability of spatial analysis to questions of domestic life and wider society.

The University of Western Australia

Beneath the colonial gaze: modelling maritime society and cross-cultural contact on Australia’s Southern Ocean frontier—the Archipelago of the Recherche, Western Australia

Ross Anderson

Department of Archaeology,
School of Social Sciences,
University of Western Australia
PhD thesis

Submitted July 2016

162013 Ross map Fig1

This thesis presents a model for understanding maritime society, cross-cultural contact and informal colonisation processes that transformed society and environment across Australasia’s ‘Southern Ocean frontier’—the mainland and offshore islands of Australia and New Zealand where newcomers came into contact with Aboriginal people.

The incorporation of maritime frontiers is essential to any discussion of exploration, frontier studies, cross-culture contact and colonisation processes in Australasia. Immediately following the establishment of the British penal settlement at Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1788, sealers and whalers extended Port Jackson’s economic frontier with their explorations of the ‘South Seas’, including the southern coastlines and offshore islands of Australia and New Zealand.

Connected to established northern hemisphere oil and fur markets in Europe, North America and China, sealing and whaling were key drivers for maritime exploration and settlement along Australasia’s Southern Ocean frontier. Sealing and whaling attracted foreign shipping, established commercial relationships with major mercantile houses in London, India and China, and transformed Port Jackson from a penal colony into the major shipping and financial centre of the South Seas. The ability to trade furs directly with China in exchange for money, tea, silk and other commodities reduced the need to export British currency to the China market, and generated colonial wealth to fund mercantile and agro-pastoral ventures.

Unofficial exploration and informal settlement of the Southern Ocean frontier by newcomers in ships led to encounters with Indigenous societies, with seasonal and permanent coastal settlements established on islands and the mainland trading in marine and hinterland resources. Later official colonial settlement benefited from the acquired knowledge of the coast and its resources, and as settler society expanded political, economic and cultural frontiers further into Indigenous territories in the coastal hinterland, traditional life was radically transformed.

The theme of cross-cultural contact applies to the initial contacts made by sealers and whalers with Aboriginal people on the Southern Ocean frontier, the participation of Aboriginal people in those industries and the diverse ethnicities of crews in the sealing and whaling industries. This thesis follows Lape’s (2003: 103) methodological approach to exploring local two-way transfer through culture contact in that it will ‘…document local developments in the context of large regional scale interactions and influences…[to consider] a focus on the two-way transfer of ideas, influences and technologies in contact situations, an increased concern with the specific mechanisms of information transfer and a related focus on local uses and meanings of foreign ideas and material objects’. This methodological approach avoids the dominant Western paradigm of affirming colonisation processes, and seeks to understand the widest possible diversity of responses to cross-cultural contact, both historically and materially as represented in the archaeological record.

The geographical focus of this research is the Archipelago of the Recherche off Western Australia’s southern coast and the adjacent mainland, which contain a variety of archaeological evidence related to 19th-century seal and whale harvesting including shipwrecks, historical archaeological sites and Aboriginal sites and artefacts.

Findings derived from historical and archaeological research provide an overview of the history, extent and types of sealing, whaling and cross-cultural contact occurring within the Archipelago during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Fieldwork was undertaken to record a variety of underwater, historical terrestrial and Indigenous archaeological sites. A holistic maritime landscape approach allows for a new understanding of the links between material and symbolic heritage sites in the Archipelago of the Recherche. Pre-existing environmental and cultural boundaries defining the fluid, liminal borderland spaces on the Southern Ocean frontier are described as are their subsequent transformation to more rigidly controlled spaces through colonisation processes. Other key aspects to understanding the maritime frontier landscape include the importance of islands; the establishment of seasonal camps and informal settlements as a precursor to semi-permanent and permanent settlement; voyaging and shipping networks; cross-cultural contact; the blending of Indigenous and newcomer cultures; the operation of hybrid colonial exchange economies; and over-exploitation of resources leading to decline and abandonment.