AAA2020 Virtual Conference Banner 7 - 10 Dec

Emerging Archaeologists in Isolation, the 2020 Honours Cohort

Jillian Huntley
Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research and the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, Qld, Australia

Sally Wasef, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research and the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University

A minimum qualification for Australian practitioners, Honours projects (and equivalent Masters by coursework and research) are our first chance to complete our own research. Honours is a challenging year for every archaeologist. Thrown into the mix, this year’s cohort worked amid a global pandemic that has added to the complexities of stakeholder consolation and disrupted all museum, field and laboratory programs. In this session we will celebrate the achievements of students who have faced their first large-scale independent archaeological work amid physical isolation & travel restrictions resulting in remote community consultation & supervision, limited assemblage & analytic facility access, and less than ideal conditions for study in general. Reflecting on these experiences, our speakers will share their stories of research resilience and their views of future prospects for emerging archaeologist in Australia, particularly how they feel COIVD-19 has impacted their career prospects (against the backdrop of skyrocketing youth unemployment).

Small Marsupial Consumption in the Southwest of Western Australia: An Experimental Replication and Osteological Analysis of Cooked Quenda (Isoodon Obesulus) Remains

Darcy Moroney
University of Western Australia

Faunal material may enter archaeological sites via the actions of non-human predators or natural deposition and misadventure. There is a need, therefore, for clarification of pre-depositional taphonomic influences to identify anthropogenically modified faunal material. One of the signature marks of anthropogenic alteration is burn damage produced by cooking. The creation of a clear set of diagnostic criteria to identify cooked faunal material can be investigated through experimental replication of cooking damage. While studies replicating cooking damage to small mammals have been conducted in Argentina (Frontini and Vecchi 2014; Medina et al. 2012) and Spain (Lloveras et al. 2009), no such work has occurred in Australia. My project seeks to simulate traditional Noongar cooking of Quenda (Southern Brown Bandicoot; Isoodon obesulus). To achieve these aims, the carcasses of ten I. obesulus were be roasted on an open fire, simulating an Indigenous hearth. The method of cooking was based on ethnographic and historic evidence. Once roasted, the carcasses were de-fleshed to facilitate analysis of burn damage to the skeletons, the extent of burn damage, and pattern of element loss was examined macroscopically. The resultant data were used to identify cooking damage on I. obesulus remains recovered from Yellabidde Cave (c. 25,500cal. BP to 19th century), a Noongar archaeological site (Monks et al. 2016). The degree of similarity between the experiemental samples and the archaeological samples recovered Yellabidde Cave were used to determine the validity of cooking damage replication as a means to differentiate anthropogenically modified I. obesulus remains from those incorporated incidentally.

The practical components of my project were severely disrupted by the pandemic. There were long delays in acquiring my samples. Transitioning to online coursework was also challenging. I believe overcoming these challenges has taught me perseverance that will be beneficial as I enter the professional archaeological world.

Holocene, Estuarine and Quarantine: Rock Art Analysis in Isolation

Ryan Crough-Heaton
Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University.

The importance of the site of Madjedbebe to Bininj (Aboriginal) people cannot easily be overstated. However, a publishing emphasis on the site’s Pleistocene deposits presents an opportunity to shift focus to the Holocene lifeways of Mirarr’s Old People, and how they responded to the major social and environmental changes of the past 6000 years. In mid-2019, consultation began with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) about the prospect of undertaking an Honours-level rock art project on Mirarr Country. This consultation manifested into a geochemical characterisation of the Holocene-age ochres and rock art at Madjedbebe. The project was run in collaboration with site custodian May Nango and the Djurrubu Rangers, who oversaw data collection on Mirarr Country. The project chemically differentiated images from the rock art assemblage immediately bordering the 2012 and 2015 excavations, and a systematic sample of the Holocene shell midden ochres with non-destructive pXRF analysis. Digital tracings and a Harris matrix were produced remotely with photographs from the GAC archives to identify discrete painting phases, and this combined with the geochemical data and piece-plotted archaeological ochres produced periods of detailed behavioural patterns for comparison to palaeoenvironmental data.

Initial findings of this ongoing honours project will be presented, as well as a discussion of the community consultation and adaptations to the disruptive conditions of COVID-19. While it is impossible to yet know the full impacts of this pandemic on Australian archaeology, personal insights into how it has affected career planning and seizing opportunities will be explored, in addition to ways of alleviating these affects for future graduates. This combination of consultation, adaptation and mitigation will ideally provide a framework for post-quarantine archaeology students entering a field likely characterised by a lack of entry-level positions, fieldwork prospects, and university funding.

Characterising Fire Activity at Boodie Cave, Northwest Australia, using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (and its challenges!)

Nikola Ristovski
University of Western Australia

Indigenous Australians boast a complex use of fire but these details are often lost in the archaeological record. To refine this record, and better identify its anthropic origin, archaeologists could increase their resolution using microarchaeological techniques like micromorphology – the microscopic study of undisturbed sediments – and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), a recent technique used to fingerprint materials but underused in Australian contexts.

Here, I present the challenges of building a reference collection of burnt bone and clay amid limited access to equipment (due to state travel restrictions) and our virtual work-arounds. The experimental bone is characterised using colour, surface features, SEM, XRD and FTIR, and its data applied to archaeological bone from Boodie Cave, Barrow Island (an early Aboriginal occupation site on the northwest coast of Australia) to estimate its temperature exposure. The goal is to interpret how fire activities changed through time and study the effects of long-term bone deposition at the micro-scale. This will reveal the potential of FTIR to increase our resolution of combustion features in Australian archaeological sites.

On the top of a mountain I saw the figure of a man… An Analysis of the Relationship Between Visual Perception and the Engraved art of the Sydney-Hawkesbury Region using GIS and the Concept of Affordances

Cameron Neal
The University of Sydney

What is the relationship between visual perception and the engraved art? The literature is littered with references to the sensory qualities of Sydney-Hawkesbury engraving sites. W.D. Campbell noted that locations selected seem to possess ‘a commanding view of the surrounding country … other carvings, and the ocean or some sheet of water’, while McDonald observed that engravings functioned as signals within prehistoric communication network, mediating group identity.

My work used a landscape perspective to determine if high visibility was a desirable feature in choosing where to place engraved art and to explored patterns of visibility within the context of movement. I hypothesised that engravings would tend to be in places affording extensive views. Secondly, that sites containing rare motifs would afford even greater levels of visibility. Thirdly, sites located along known travel routes would be located in places affording extensive visibility. To test this, I generated affordance-viewshed models for Ku-ring-gai National Park, Yengo National Park, and the Boree Track using GIS. I plotted the location of known engraving sites onto the model to determine level of visibility at engraving sites. Sites chosen included both common and rare motifs (based on frequency reported by McDonald). Research on hunter-gather aggregation sites (e.g. Conkey 1988, McDonald & Veth 2011) indicates a potentially greater level of significance at sites containing rarer motifs. Therefore, we may expect sites containing rarer motifs to also be located in areas affording the highest levels of visibility of the surrounding landscape.

This work was not impacted by COIVD-19 conditions and the style of research (modelling with existing Aboriginal heritage registered data) would seem to be a more resilient

Home is Where the Knowledge is: Ancient DNA and ZooMS Applied to Provenance, Revitalise and Repatriate Material Culture

Aimee Henderson
Griffith University

March 2020 saw the preparation for one of our most challenging, important and rewarding academic years. At this point in time, I was looking forward to beginning my project, focusing on Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) and ancient DNA (aDNA) techniques as mechanisms to provenance Indigenous artefacts. The information gathered from this study aimed to contribute to informing on archaeology and museum collections and facilitating cultural and social connections.

Shortly after beginning the honours year, Covid-19 struck, along with its associated global restrictions and anxieties. All of the latter extended from foreign shores to home soil swiftly, introducing a unique set of circumstances and challenges.

My project has had several obstacles arise from the pandemic, including mandatory university and museum closures and interstate travel restrictions. Consequently, this limited access to research data and collaborative project planning. Across the board, museums and other institutions faced internal Covid-19 related challenges transferring to virtual displays and later, extensive planning to re-open under safe conditions. These unforeseen requirements mandated that research activities be temporarily suspended while immediate issues were addressed.

The challenges presented by the pandemic have highlighted key implications relevant to my project, professional practice, and broader academic research. The fact that the collection of physical research data was compromised stood out as the main limitation, along with restrictions around data analysis facilities and impeded collaboration. The reliance each project stakeholder and component have on one another was also emphasised and tested, prompting contingency evaluation and collaboration adjustments to maintain quality research. Next, a chapter of early research and career development amidst a global upheaval demanding unique economic, medical and social considerations. The transition of humanities industries, based on interstate and international connections, to a more isolated status will likely present limitations in development in some areas while introducing new opportunities in others.

A Mineralogical and Geochemical Analysis of Cloggs Cave, Victoria

Courtney Webster
Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people work and study and this is especially true for archaeology honours students. This difficult year of independent research which is intended to help develop research and academic skills for the future has been met with unexpected delays and roadblocks due to the pandemic.

The archaeological site of Cloggs Cave is a limestone cave in Krowathunkooloong country of the Gunaikurnai nation in Victoria. Pigment on the wall of the Cloggs Cave rock shelter could provide an opportunity to obtain further information in relation to the site and its occupation over the years. The Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation has asked me to look at this rock art to determine if it is likely post-colonial or older. In order to determine the elemental composition of this pigment, this project employs mineralogical and geochemical analysis using portable x-ray fluorescence analysis, scanning electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and Synchrotron x-ray diffraction. The outputs of these techniques will provide an elemental characterisation which may identify if the rock art was made by their Old people. Not only can the composition of the pigment be determined but also how it was processed and placed onto the wall. This kind of analysis will also provide information on how it has weathered and the timeframe in which the limestone is weathering from the rock shelter wall to inform conservation practices.

Despite consistent work hitting all the milestones needed ahead of schedule, securing internal and external funding and receiving ethics clearance, this project has been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 travel restrictions. This ‘second wave’ in Victoria has put a complete halt to any progress since March. The implications of this postponement will therefore carry on into next year and may delay any further project or career progression.

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