I have just realised that this blog is still live and attracting traffic. If you’re wondering why things have been so quiet, please note that I now blog at



In 2007 Jane Lydon, Jeremy Ash and I co-convened a conference session at the ‘New Ground’ Australian Archaeology joint conference at the University of Sydney on the archaeology of Indigenous missions and reserves in Australia and the Pacific. A range of papers were presented exploring the contributions of archaeological approaches to the history of missions and reserves,  with case studies including work from the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Torres Strait, the Gulf of Carpentaria and a series of papers on work throughout south eastern Australia. After the great feedback we received at the conference, we explored publication opportunities and I am (belatedly) glad to report that this collection of papers has recently been published in the March 2010 edition of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology.

One of the key motivations for publishing the papers was to showcase the diverse histories of Indigenous missions in the region, and the equally diverse approaches employed in the investigation of those histories. Lydon and Ash wrote a great introduction to the volume which aptly locates the papers in relation to international debates on missions and the archaeology of cross-cultural interactions, as well as the history of research into Indigenous missions and reserves in Australia and the Pacific.

Darlene McNaughton, Justin Shiner and I wrote a paper that set out to explore the economic contributions of Indigenous people who lived in and near a former Presbyterian mission at Weipa, and the significance of those contributions to both the mission and the health and wellbeing of the mission community. We were most interested in looking at wild food (that is, foods that were gathered and hunted from the bush by Aboriginal people), and we focused upon the case study of culturally modified trees (scarred trees) as well as relevant historical and oral history data. The abstract is below:

Mission-based Indigenous Production at the Weipa Presbyterian Mission, Western Cape York Peninsula (1932-1966)
Michael Morrison, Darlene McNaughton and Justin Shiner

Previous research on remote nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Indigenous missions in northern and central Australia point
to their often tenuous existence and the complex nature of engagements between Christian Missionaries and Indigenous people.
This paper explores the contribution and significance of Indigenous production of wild foods in the context of one such settlement
located at Weipa on Cape York Peninsula, north eastern Australia. It is premised on the assertion that investigation of the
economies of these often remote settlements has the potential to reveal much about the character of cross-cultural engagements
within the context of early mission settlements. Many remote missions had a far from secure economic basis and were sometimes
unable to produce the consistent food supplies that were central to their proselytizing efforts. In this paper it is suggested
that Indigenous-produced wild foods were of significant importance to the mission on a day-to-day basis in terms of their
dietary contribution (particularly in terms of protein sources) and were also important to Indigenous people from a social
and cultural perspective. We develop this argument through the case study of culturally modified trees that resulted from
the collection of wild honey.

Highlights in the volume for me included the paper by Lydon and Burns on the Ebenezer Mission in Victoria (see also Lydon’s recently published book), Angela Middleton’s comparative paper on Missionization in New Zealand and Australia, and finally, the paper by Birmingham and Wilson comparing the well known Wybalenna Settlement (Tasmania) with  the Killalpaninna Mission (central Australia). We hope to have the volume reviewed in the coming months and I’ll post that once it comes out.

EDIT (26 Mar 2010): Alun Salt has written a great blog post about our paper, which you can read here.

Over the past half year or so I have been working on a project documenting the cultural heritage of the Alngith People (pronounced Al-ngit where ‘ng’ is the same as in ‘ping’) , an Aboriginal group whose lands include the Weipa area and surrounds on western Cape York Peninsula, north eastern Australia. It is a fascinating and enjoyable project that has thrown up a number of unique challenges and opportunities in regards to cultural heritage management. The project is funded by the Indigenous Heritage Program via the Malaruch Aboriginal Corporation, representative body for the Alngith group.

Continue reading ‘Mapping cultural landscapes: the Alngith Cultural Heritage Project’

PhD is done!


At long, long last I am happy to report that my doctoral dissertation is through the examination process and came out largely unscathed. Although I need to make some minor corrections and graduate before it is ‘official’, it really all hinges on examiners comments which I recieved a few weeks ago. They were good, so I thought it might be timely to post my abstract.

The shell mounds of Albatross Bay: an archaeological investigation of late Holocene gatherer-hunter production strategies near Weipa, north eastern Australia.

This thesis presents the results of an archaeological investigation of shell matrix sites, and in particular, shell mounds sites that occur around the shores of Albatross Bay, near Weipa on the north western Cape York Peninsula, northern Australia. It is the contention of this thesis that earlier approaches to the investigation of shell mound sites in northern Australia have tended to place too much emphasis on developing long-term explanatory models that gloss over explanations for the specific roles of these unique sites in past economic systems. While long-term explanations represent important contributions, it is argued here that short-term decadal scale modelling of the production systems associated with shell mound formation and use are required in order to fully understand the significance of the mid- to late Holocene emergence of these types of sites. It is argued that a focus on production – defined in a substantive economic sense – is a suitable avenue through which archaeologists can expand our understanding of the role of these features in past Indigenous societies, and their broader importance on longer-term time scales

The thesis thus develops a detailed model of the production strategies associated with the formation of shell mound sites that occur around Albatross Bay, while also considering the broader significance of this model, particularly within the context of Cape York Peninsula. It presents the results of field surveys and excavations carried out around Albatross Bay by the author, as well as a detailed review and analysis of work carried out by others. It is argued that shell mounds are the result of relatively specialised production activities focussing on a very specific resource base: mudflat shellfish species. Shell mounds offered a range of unique benefits for people engaged in these specialised activities, including as camp sites and as specialised activity areas. These events were inherently flexible in size and in terms of timing, reflecting the dynamic nature of the resource base itself; yet the flexible nature of this production strategy also enabled more regular small scale social gatherings, along with a range of social and economic benefits to participants, than would have been otherwise possible. It is proposed that these types of strategies may represent an important characteristic of the production systems employed by gatherer-hunter peoples in late Holocene Cape York.

Overall, this thesis makes a significant contribution to both our understanding of late Holocene lifeways at Albatross Bay as well as to our understanding of the significance of the emergence of shell mound sites in Cape York. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of a focus on short-term modelling of Indigenous lifeways alongside approaches oriented toward longer-term explanations of economic, social and environmental change.

– –

I’m in the process of making the final corrections and within a few months expect it to be available online and open access via the Open Digital Thesis Program. I’ll post again when that happens.

Morrison, M.J. 2010 The shell mounds of Albatross Bay: an archaeological investigation of late Holocene production strategies near Weipa, north eastern Australia. Unpublished PhD thesis, Adelaide: Department of Archaeology, Flinders University.

September to December is typically the ‘conference season’ in Australia and is when most major archaeology conferences are scheduled. The largest of these is the Australian Archaeology Association’s annual conference which this year is being held in Adelaide, South Australia in early December. The keynote speaker is Professor Geoff Bailey (University of York) and the conference seems to have a good selection of sessions on offer. Continue reading ‘Australian Archaeology Association Conference 2009’

My apologies for the lengthy hiatus between posts on this site;  as followers of my twitter feed would be aware I have recently submitted my Doctoral thesis for examination, and the final stages of completing that needed to take precedence over blogging. However, with that behind me now I have time to start writing here again: there have been quite a few research papers published recently that I will endeavour to post as soon as possible, as well as a few half written posts that have been waiting to be completed.

Update: 15 October 2009

In the past week or so I have made some changes to the aims and purpose of this site and you can read all about those in the About section. I have also moved to a new domain ( and also have imported selected posts from my old blogger site. Before I can start posting again I need to edit these, this should be completed in the coming days.

I will also be adding separate permanent pages for each of my current research projects as well as details on publications, seminars, reports and so on.

New genetic research reported in the July edition of BMC Evolutionary Biology (1) suggests shared mitochondrial DNA between some ‘relic tribes of India’ and Australian Aboriginal people.

Our complete mtDNA sequencing of 966 individuals frm 26 relic populations of India identified seven individuals from central Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic tribes who share two basal synonymous mtDNA polymorphisms … with the M42 haplogroup, which is specific to Australian Aboriginies.

They suggest that divergence between the two populations occurred at 55,000±10,800 years BP, an estimate based on statistical analysis of mtDNA mutation rates. They argue that this is consistent with current evidence for early occupation of Australia and suggest their data supports Australian colonisation via the southern dispersal route through south Asia ~60-50,000 years BP. Kris Hurst at has a good overview of the southern disperal route though her suggested dates for earliest colonisation of Australia are quite conservative.

ABC Science (2) have published comments from Dr Jeremy Austin at the University of Adelaide who suggests that “…this is the first time people have been able to find these exact same mitochondrial DNA types inside and outside Australia”.

Full abstract and the open source paper can be accessed from the Biomedcentral website. Thanks to Tim Jones who first blogged this at as well as @jorgenholm on twitter who picked up the ABC story.


(1) Kumar, Satish, Rajasekhara Ravuri, Padmaja Koneru, B Urade, B Sarkar, A Chandrasekar, and V Rao. 2009. Reconstructing Indian-Australian phylogenetic link. BMC Evolutionary Biology 9, no. 1: 173. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-173.

(2) Phillips, Nicky. 2009. DNA confirms coastal trek to Australia. Item. 24T14:40:00+10:00 7.

The National Museum of Australia are hosting a symposium exploring the legacy of the 1948  American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, northern Australia. Archaeologists and anthropologists may be familiar with some of the early research carried out during this expedition by McCarthy, Mountford and others though a much broader range of research was undertaken. The following quote is from Wikipedia, which suprisingly has some well referenced and seemingly accurate information on the expedition:

In February 1948, a team of Australian and American researchers and support staff came together in northern Australia to begin, what was then, one of the largest scientific expeditions ever to have taken place in this country—the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land (also known as the Arnhem Land Expedition). Today it remains one of the most significant, most ambitious and least understood expeditions ever mounted[1]. Seventeen men and women journeyed across the remote region known as Arnhem Land in northern Australia for nine months. From varying disciplinary perspectives, and under the guidance of expedition leader Charles Mountford, they investigated the Indigenous populations and the environment of Arnhem Land. In addition to an ethnographer, archaeologist, photographer, and filmmaker, the expedition included a botanist, a mammalogist, an ichthyologist, an ornithologist, and a team of medical and nutritional scientists. Their first base camp was Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Three months later they moved to Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula and three months following that to Oenpelli (now Gunbalanya) in west Arnhem Land[2]. The journey involved the collaboration of different sponsors and partners (among them the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and various agencies of the Commonwealth of Australia). In the wake of the expedition came volumes of scientific publications, kilometres of film, thousands of photographs, tens of thousands of scientific specimens, and a vast array of artefacts and paintings from across Arnhem Land. The legacy of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition is vast, complex, and, at times, contentious.[3]

Details on the symposium can be found on the NMA website, but in summary:

Six decades have passed since the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. So it is a fitting moment for celebration, re-evaluation and renewed collaboration between the individuals, institutions and countries touched by this formative research venture.

In 2009 the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia will be hosting Barks, Birds & Billabongs: Exploring the legacy of the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, an international symposium that will investigate the Expedition’s significant and often controversial legacy.

This symposium will be organised around three core themes: Histories, Legacies and Continuity & Change. Particular emphasis will be placed on Indigenous perspectives.

Bibliographic software are an essential part of the software suite of many researchers, providing an important means of organising citation data and associated documents and notes. In recent years, this software also become increasingly good at allowing researchers to directly import new references found on the web into their reference collections at the click of a few buttons. However, the recent release of a fairly stable Beta version of Zotero (2.0) – an open source bibliographic software – suggests that bibliographic management may soon be turned on its head.

JSTOR: Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1964), pp. 248-265Zotero is an extension, or plugin, for the free web browser Firefox and has been around for a while; indeed, I have written about it before at my former blog, and I’m still an enthusiastic advocate. The application sits inconspicuously in the bottom of of your web browser and allows you to directly import references from a very wide range of sources including journal databases, search engines such as Google Scholar, or library catalogs. Once in your reference collection, you use the program as your bibliographic manager, placing items into categories, attaching research notes and so on. The people at Zotero have a very good range of introductory tutorials, so I won’t cover that here. Overall though, it’s quite a nifty little program; for example, it can download whole pages of references from Google scholar or journal databases as well as import from or export to other bibliographic software packages. You can also use Zotero to cite references and compile reference lists in documents that you are working in both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.

One reason I think Zotero 2.0 will change the way many academics use bibliographic software is that it has various tools to enable collaboration across the web. Whereas Zotero 1.0 sat in your browser enabling you to acquire and manage your references, 2.0 enables you to:

  • Synchronise and backup your Library to the web or another computer;
  • Create public or private ‘groups’ on the web, allowing group members to collectively build reference collections online;
  • search public collections compiled by other researchers;
  • seemlessly add references found in public collections to your own collection

This will be of great value for teams working on collaborative research projects because it will allow team members to work from and also contribute to a central reference collection on the web.  It may turn out to be a useful tool in various contexts, including:

  • university lecturers or teachers seeking a single, web-friendly reference collection on a particular subject or topic;
  • publishers, societies or organisations wanting to improve accessibility to their publications;
  • researchers who want to compile a list of their own publications on the web, as a supplement to online resumes and so on;
  • collaborators working on research projects involving multiple individual researchers;

In a project I am working on we are planning on using Zotero 2.0 to collaborate on compiling a database of archival sources. The ease with which individual collections can be shared in Zotero 2.0 makes it a very attractive alternative to the old system of swapping ZIP files of endnote libraries or worse still, emailing documents or reference lists back and forth for manual entry into your bibliographic software.

If you haven’t tried Zotero, then I suggest that you read this and decide whether you want to try the Beta or the current stable version. It takes no time to install and is completely free. Personally, I have found it to be an incredibly useful addition to my software suite and it is likely to soon completely replace the commerical bibliographic software I am currently using. I don’t think Zotero will change the way all archaeologists collaborate, however for key groups of web-savvy researchers I suspect Zotero 2.0 will be picked up very quickly because it provides what seems to me to be a rather unique set of tools not yet available elsewhere.

The Terra Australis monograph series has traditionally provided an important publication opportunity for researchers working in the Australasian region, particularly for those wanting to publish lengthy data rich work such as PhD theses or other major archaeological projects. The series started in 1971 and despite a 10 year gap in new volumes between 1989 and 1999, the series has had a notable resurgence in recent years supplementing the traditional monograph format with edited volumes and conference proceedings. The most recent Terra Australis volume ‘New Directions in Archaeological Science’, edited by Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick is I suspect one of the first conference proceedings to be published in the series.

This volume emerged from the 2005 meeting of the Australasian Archaeometry Association and includes papers on geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry:

Archaeological Science meetings will have a personality of their own depending on the focus of the host archaeological fraternity itself. The 8th Australasian Archaeometry meeting follows this pattern but underlying the regional emphasis is the continuing concern for the processes of change in the landscape that simultaneously effect and illuminate the archaeological record. These are universal themes for any archaeological research with the increasing employment of science-based studies proving to be a key to understanding the place of humans as subjects and agents of change over time.

This collection of refereed papers covers the thematic fields of geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry, with particular emphasis on the first two. The editors Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick outline the special value of these contributions in the introduction. The international nature of archaeological science will mean that the advances set out in these papers will find a receptive audience among many archaeologists elsewhere. There is no doubt that the story that Australasian archaeology has to tell has been copiously enriched by incorporating a widening net of advanced science-based studies. This has brought attention to the nature of the environment as a human artefact, a fact now more widely appreciated, and archaeology deals with these artefacts, among others, in this way in this publication.

You can find the chapter list here and the editors provide a good overview of the volume in their foreword. For me, stand out papers include a series on open sites within the complex semi-arid landscapes of western New South Wales (papers by Fanning, Holdaway and Phillips; Shiner; and Holdaway, Fanning and Littleton) as well as several considering some of the complexities of using marine shell for radiocarbon dating (Petchey; Bourke and Hua). However this only reflects my personel interests rather than the quality of other papers on topics including OSL dating, chemical characterisation of pottery, analysis of megafaunal bones and macrobotanical analysis.

Significantly, the volume is published both in printed form and as a (free) electronic download by the Australian National University E-Press. For some reason, it appears as Terra Australis 28 (2009 publication date) while another good volume published last year (Islands of Inquiry: colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime seascapes edited by Clark, Leach and O’Connor) was published in 2008 as volume 29.

Via the Archaeometry blog

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