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Australia through Time and Place

Module 2: People, Power and Place

WEEK 7: STUDY NOTES ABORIGINAL MANAGEMENT OF COUNTRY This week we consider land use and management and what the evidence is for this in the archaeological record. We look at a range of ways that Aboriginal societies use, manage and conceptualise their country, including food resources, quarrying activities, trade networks, fire management, etc. Land rights and responsibilities are underpinned by cosmology. Origin stories, kinship and other aspects of Aboriginal cultures are intrinsically linked to the land. In this module we consider ways in which people establish and maintain rights and responsibilities to particular tracts of country and the resources of those lands and waters. We look at the complementary roles of men and women in relation to country as well as kinship systems, birth place and other associations that establish rights and responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities to land are established and maintained through a range of social practices and some of these are archaeologically visible. Land management practices in the archaeological record can therefore tell us something about ecological and economic knowledge and social relations. This week we explore some of the ways in which land use is identified in the archaeological record, and how social organization is interpreted. Is it possible to reconstruct relationships between people, land and resources from the archaeological record? ARCHAEOLOGICALLY VISIBLE LAND MANAGEMENT PRACTICES Archaeological work has often focused on resource use, but people do not necessarily make rational decisions based simply on environmental conditions and the availability of resources. We know from ethnography that relationships to and responsibilities for country are linked to social factors. Archaeological evidence can only provide broad and more generalized interpretations of social behaviour in comparison with those provided by ethnography, however, we can say something about the nature of land management and social responsibilities. Some of the activities that Aboriginal people engage in to maintain and manage country are archaeologically visible. Management of country in the ethnographic present is largely determined by rights and responsibilities to particular places and regions what is sometimes termed, country. Some of the practices that are archaeological visible include: - Fire - Trade and Exchange - Burials - Paintings FIRE In 1969 Rhys Jones published Fire-stick Farming (one of the workshop readings). This is a classic paper that suggested that what had previously been presumed to be natural environments in Australia were in fact the product of Aboriginal firing practices. It is now widely accepted that firing practices significantly transformed the landscapes of Australia, including major changes to flora and fauna. This is so widely accepted that evidence for fire is now used as evidence of human

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presence. Examples include changes to pollen and charcoal sequences at the following sites: i) Lake George vegetation shift and increased charcoal ca. 120,000 BP (Singh and Geisler 1985:438) ii) Lynchs Crater a vegetation change and increase in carbonised particles at ca 38,000 BP. iii) The ODP 820 marine core, increase in grassland ca. 140,000 BP. Also a later shift at 45,000 BP accompanied by much charcoal. Claims for evidence of human impact in palaeoecological records that pre-date the archaeologically established time of human occupation in Australia (currently 45,00050,000 years) should be treated as extremely tenuous. References Bohte, A. and A.P. Kershaw 1999 Taphonomic Influences on the Interpretation of the Palaeoecological Record from Lynch's Crater, Northeastern Australia. Quaternary International 57/58: 49-59. Singh, G. and E.A. Geissler 1985 Late Cainozoic History of Vegetation, Fire, Lake Levels and Climate at Lake George, New South Wales, Australia. Philosphical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B311: 379-447. Webb, R.E. 1995 ODP Site 820 and the Initial Human Colonisation of Sahul. Quaternary Australasia 13 (1): 13-18. Social aspects of firing Head, L. 1994 Both Ends of the Candle? Discerning Human Impact on the Vegetation. Australian Archaeology 39: 82-86. Head (1994) suggests that Aboriginal firing practices are distinguishable from natural fires in a number of ways and argues that recent Aboriginal burning practices, which are strongly linked to seasonality, are likely to be a mid-Holocene development (a time when seasons became comparable with those of today). Heads study is distinctive because she does not simply equate burning with the encouragement of plant foods. She considers the social aspects of Aboriginal burning, rather than just the ecological outcomes of the practice and suggests that these are more important than a landscape management tool. Her paper is based on ethnographic observations from the east Kimberley on the use of fire in land management. She suggests that practices to keep country clean/good is a fundamental responsibility of Aboriginal owners. In spite of the fact that these practices have been severely disrupted in the colonial period, the way that people perceive the role of fire in shaping country continues to be strongly held. There was clear conflict with contemporary pastoral burning practices with pastoralists being less inclined to burn. For Aboriginal people country that had not been burnt was a source of distress because they perceived that the country was not being looked after they felt hemmed in, that it was a dangerous state. Head states that this was due to the presence of snakes and that this resulted in restricted access. Although Head does not suggest this, work undertaken in Cape York suggests that burning is also used to clean out dangerous spirits from wild country. Certainly when people visit country after a long period of absence, they burn for this purpose. Head also found that the intentions of people and the lighting of fires did not have a singular or even controlled outcome so that the results of burning had a range of expressions. Fire is an integral part of Aboriginal peoples self-perception and therefore the desire to clean country in this way overrode any specific practice or even the right time of year for doing it.

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EXCHANGE AND TRADE Reciprocal exchange was a prominent feature of Aboriginal societies at the time of European colonization. A central component of these exchange networks was the formation of alliances between individuals and groups. The establishment of these alliances took place within a social and often ritualized context, though economic motives also played a part. Ceremonial exchange systems are also known to have been extensive throughout the continent. Social practices, knowledge and material goods travelled between exchange partners, along established trade routes from one end of the continent to the other. While the exchange of ceremonies and other ritual activity were the main event, specific items associated with this included ochre, pituri (a narcotic substance used in ritual), grinding slabs, stone and wooden artefacts, pearl and baler shells and others. Large supplies of food were necessary to facilitate exchange ceremonies which could include hundreds or sometimes thousands of people and in some instances, food itself was an item of exchange. Many traded items survive archaeologically. Some of these can be traced to their source and thus it is possible to reconstruct trade routes. The control and management of resources for the purposes of trade can tell us about the nature and extent of relationships both within a specific group and beyond. One of the most extensive studies of a trade network comes from Isabel McBrydes work on the greenstone quarry at Mount William in Victoria. One of her papers is an essential reading for this week. This quarry is one of several greenstone outcrops in the region. The stone was used primarily in the manufacture of axe heads which were used as hafted hatchets, and we know from the ethnography that the stone from Mount William was a prized source. Artefacts from the Mt William quarry have a much greater distribution than other regional sources of greenstone. However, the movement of greenstone is not determined by purely by functional needs. Even though the material is high quality, the distribution of artefacts shows that it was being traded into areas where identical items and materials were available. McBryde argues that there was a social function or value attached to this material. She suggests that exchange was governed by more than supply and demand and found that the distribution patterns of Mt William greenstone are consistent with ethnohistorical data in relation to group alliances. Quarrying of the Mt William source utilized both exposed outcrops and mining. More than 250 circular or oval mining pits and 18 deeper shaft-like pits are present on the site. Mount William stone axes have been found hundreds of kilometres from their source, mainly to the north and west. The ethnographic hostility between Kulin (the Aboriginal owners of Mt William) and Kurnai (another Aboriginal group) is indicated by less greenstone trade in this direction. This is also supported by linguistic evidence. McBryde builds a picture of social affiliations, clan territories and the political networks operating within social units from an analysis of artefact distributions and spatial correlations of these. ARCHAEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF AFFILIATIONS AND BOUNDARIES Before looking at two further examples of archaeological evidence burials and paintings we need to first consider issues of style and boundaries. Through the identification of a boundary between one distinctive pattern and another, archaeologists are able to identify specific archaeological cultures and explore migration and economic systems (e.g. Mt William quarry). Style is important for the study of boundaries. Style has been shown to have iconic, emblematic and symbolic significance. It can be adopted actively, through negotiation or as a by-product or unconscious practice.

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Human choices determine the steps in any technological approaches in other words there are always several ways to achieve the same functional result (see Taon 1991- essential reading in Week 4). Everyday items produced through highly repetitive actions become the way things are done by a particular group, and hence a signature of that group. Hence both decoration and technology may have stylistic elements that can inform archaeologists about social boundaries. The study of style therefore allows archaeologists to consider complex social concepts. However, archaeology is not an ethnography of the past, and as such the cultures that we observe are not necessarily equivalent with those known ethnographically. Social boundaries are ideological constructs or abstract ideas that have different meanings for different people. These can also change over time. Archaeology can identify links between two groups more readily than the specifics of a particular bounded group. However, an archaeological boundary may be indicative of a social boundary. Sometimes these social boundaries can also be seen in relation to technology but some technologies cross-cut social boundaries. As archaeologists, we are attempting to observe similarities as well as differences in the archaeological record and it is these that give us clues as to social boundaries and, by implication alliances and identity. The examples of burials and painting sites may not be thought of as strictly land management in the simplistic sense of ownership and firing, but they provide insights into the social systems that govern those practices. BURIALS Pardoe (1995) uses archaeological evidence for cemeteries (as distinct from other forms of burial practice) to define an archaeological region, the Murray River Corridor, and its social practices in the past. Pardoe uses a model provided by Saxe (1970) which links cemeteries with specific resource distributions, large and dense populations and social organization that is corporate, localized and unilineal. This study utilizes a specific definition of cemeteries which is based on the number of burials, evidence of contiguity, boundedness and exclusivity. On the basis of his survey of the evidence, Pardoe suggests that cemeteries are tied to the Murray River Corridor in this region. He explains this distribution in terms of: 1. the region has extreme variations in resources (the river being rich; the adjacent plain comparatively poor and prone to drought) 2. the need to control the rich river resources in times of drought 3. the role of cemeteries in legitimating the claims of river-based groups in times of resource stress. Pardoe uses the evidence for cemeteries to make statements about social organization and the management of resources, specifically the development of corporate, localized, unilineal descent groups. Pardoe sees the development of cemeteries in the Upper Murray at the end of the Pleistocene, and that this practice had become common by around 6000 years ago. He suggests that people in this region were developing new ways to cope with increasing difficulties in resource exploitation, ownership and control. Reference Pardoe, Colin 1995 Riverine, Biological and Cultural Evolution in Southeastern Australia. Antiquity 69 (696-713). PAINTINGS Through ritual, the roles of managers and owners of country can be expressed in material culture in particular through painting. While much of this painting is on the body (and thus does not usually survive

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archaeologically), similar images and symbols are also produced in rock art which survives in the archaeological record. The distribution and patterning of these through time and space can therefore be strong indicators of broad land management units. Painting is strongly associated with rights and responsibilities to country. McDonald uses similar painting and engraving sites around the Sydney area, as well as other archaeological sites to identify changing social relations, including ownership of territory, through time. Reference McDonald, J. 1998. Shelter rockart in the Sydney basin a space-time continuum: exploring different influences on stylistic change. In C. Chippendale and P. Taon (eds).The Archaeology of Rock Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp 319-335. IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIVE TITLE? Archaeological signatures can demonstrate the longevity of a particular groups association with and management of land. that Aboriginal societies are fluid, changing and creative and that traditions and land management practices do not have to have great antiquity to be strongly held views and central to Aboriginal selfidentity. That through the study of material culture, a number of continuities that survive even when there is apparent radical disruption.

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