Conference Theme

Sharing Archaeological Narratives

Archaeologists interpret their results in numerous ways and incorporate a range of epistemologies and ontologies in understanding deep-time, historical and contemporary narratives. In recent years, understanding the archaeological record has frequently involved the integration of a variety of ways of knowing to create shared histories, particularly those encompassing community collaborations and/or contributions from different disciplines. In this conference we encourage sessions and papers that share the results of varied approaches to understanding the past, including innovative methods and methodologies, which enable all voices to join together to celebrate truth and the visibility of alternative ways of knowing, being and doing. In this way we aim to acknowledge and appreciate the coming together of First Nations people, students, academics, early career researchers, consultants, and all members of our community, particularly those whose narratives have not always been front and centre.

Session Themes

Archaeological Narratives: Unsettling Biases and Amplifying Marginalised Voices

Archaeological research has long grappled with the entanglements of colonialism and imperialism, inadvertently embedding biases and misinterpretations into data collection and analyses. While critical scrutiny of archaeological practices is not new, this session critically examines how archaeological methodologies can inadvertently reinforce stereotypes and historical inaccuracies, overshadowing the voices and experiences of marginalised communities.

This session will continue scrutinising how Western, linear methodologies reveal limitations in comprehensively representing cultural narratives. Reanalysing data through alternative theoretical lenses like Indigenous research paradigms, queer theory, and gender studies offers vital pathways toward more nuanced interpretations.

This session emphasises the need for an unwavering commitment to ethical research in Australian archaeology by provoking discussions around conscious and subconscious data manipulation, entrenched biases, and prioritising research goals over authentic narratives. Through self-reflexive critique and inclusive knowledge-sharing, we aim to unsettle persisting colonial framings and forge more equitable approaches to understanding and representing Australia’s multifaceted cultural heritage.

Session Organiser:
Talei Holm, Flinders University

Archaeological Science in the Narration of the Past

Interdisciplinary in nature, archaeological science has long contributed evidence used to help narrate diverse understandings of people’s lives and activities, based on the (often microscopic) traces left behind. While Western archaeology has tended to divide private archaeological practice (heritage management) and university-led research, increasing mobility across sectors and collaboration between academic and professional archaeology is raising and standardising best practice. Our session welcomes archaeological science approaches within and across both academic and consulting sectors and aims to explore and celebrate Australia’s distinctive place in archaeological science, especially with regard to the co-design of research with First Nations communities. From complementary evidence supporting Indigenous Knowledge in biased colonial systems that still privilege Western legal and scientific frameworks, to novel microscopic, molecular and/or chemical techniques, this session highlights approaches that harness archaeological science in constructing narratives about the past. We encourage submissions from a broad array of specialities such as conservation sciences, microscopy, chemistry, geophysics, landscape reconstruction, innovative approaches to investigating Sea Country, molecular palaeopathology, ancient DNA, palaeoproteomics, and residue and usewear analysis. The session includes a lightning round where core narratives will be presented in ten minutes using no more than five slides, as well as standard presentations of 20 minutes including Q&A.

This session will be hosted by the Australasian Research Cluster for Archaeological Science (ARCAS).

Session Organisers:
Jillian Huntley, Griffith University
Carney Matheson, Griffith University
Elle Grono, Extent Heritage
Lucy Welsh, Extent Heritage
Rebekah Kurpiel, La Trobe University
Sofía C. Samper Carro, Australian National University

Building New Narratives of Cross-Cultural Encounter and Exchange

Archaeologists have long sought the material remains of culture ‘contact’ and ensuing changes to cultural practices and lifeways. Contact narratives in Oceania have often focussed on the arrival of European colonists and Indigenous responses to newcomers. Yet the notion of ‘contact’ has recently been criticised for implying that encounters were one-directional and for silencing the innovative and entangled ways Indigenous communities have engaged with one another and newcomers. Our session brings together archaeologists and Indigenous knowledge holders working in Australia and the Pacific to tell new and nuanced stories of encounter and exchange. We seek to answer a deceptively simple question: how have cultures shaped one another through time? What happens when peoples collide, meet, and become kin, and when ideas and objects are exchanged? In so doing, we draw on varied lines of evidence, interweaving archaeology, oral tradition, song, museum collections, and rock art to gain rich and multivocal insights into cross-cultural histories.

Session Organisers:
Chris Urwin, Monash University
Sally May, University of Adelaide
Daryl Wesley, Flinders University

Coral Sea Connections: Agentive People, Objects, Ideas

A long-term question in Australian archaeology has been the nature and extent of Melanesian cultural influences on Aboriginal communities of northeastern Australia. New archaeological and ethnographic research over the past two decades indicates that Indigenous peoples of northeast Queensland (including Torres Strait) and southern Papua New Guinea participated in exchanges of objects and ideas over the past 3000 years. These new insights have resulted from two-way learning where Indigenous communities and knowledge holders have joined forces with university researchers in collaborative, co-designed research partnerships. An important conceptual outcome of these collaborations has been an emphasis on agency in the past, and an appreciation that uptake of objects and ideas was through social and cultural choice. Such choices resulted in a complex mix of broadscale and localised patterns of cultural practices, reflecting environmental diversity and social interaction networks operating at various geographical scales.  This session explores differing scales of cultural practices using the heuristically useful concept of the Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere. Cultural practices include shared strategies of marine resource use, exchange networks, seasonal and residential island use, and social relationships and connections expressed through material culture.

Session Organiser:
Ian McNiven, Monash University

Creative Archaeology: Communicating Archaeology through Art, Performance and Fiction

The multiple narratives of archaeology have relevance and resonance to a broad range of people from across different geographies, cultures and times. Limiting the expression of archaeological data and concepts to academia narrows the potential audience, while misinformation perpetuated through popular culture discourses allows for the central tenets of the discipline to become misshapen in the imaginative spaces of broader societies. In addition to seeking broader dissemination, when communication is targeted at specific smaller audiences through tailored delivery methods and appropriately utilised creativity, it can find greater success. This session encourages the use of art, performance and fiction by archaeologists and heritage specialists as powerful creative methods of communication to present archaeological ideas and stories to different audiences. The session will include both papers discussing the uses of creativity in archaeology and examples of creative responses to the broader challenges of archaeological communication.

Session Organisers:
Darran Jordan, AECOM Australia Pty Ltd
Perri Braithwaite, AECOM Australia Pty Ltd

 

Dating Murujuga's Dreaming

This session details the progress of ARC Linkage Project (LP190100724) which is a multidisciplinary collaboration with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Woodside and Rio Tinto. The project is advancing innovative methods to directly date the art, while providing more detailed environmental contexts to better understand the style and chronology documented across Murujuga (the Dampier Archipelago). By bringing Western and Indigenous knowledge systems together, we are developing a compelling narrative about this cultural landscape. We are exploring how and where desert varnish forms on different geologies and analysing this microscopically to see whether this can be directly dated. Light-surface and -burial dating are being field and laboratory-tested to understand the viability of local geologies for using this technique. The waterholes and hydrological catchments central to rock art production are being explored. Freshwater carbonate tufas now have a defined temporal sequence which contributes to an environmental record. A new sea level curve and dune building around the islands has refined timing for islandisation and occupation opportunities in the mid to late Holocene. Archaeological excavation of a stone structure on the Burrup has demonstrated exciting new evidence about the age of house structures. And we are advancing our understanding of seasonality, soil processes on claypans, and use of machine learning to better understand surface archaeological evidence.

Session Organisers:
Jo McDonald, The University of Western Australia
Luke Gliganic, University of Wollongong
Caroline Mather, The University of Western Australia

Exploring the Whole Narrative: Combining Story-Telling, Science and Technology

Archaeology in Australia is steadily shifting from a scientific-driven perspective towards culturally-driven partnerships and projects that explore the whole narrative to understand the cultural values of a landscape. Community histories and stories were often seen as separate from archaeology, whereas they are now increasingly used to guide the direction of research. Through combining archaeology, anthropology, history and innovative new technology, culturally-driven investigation is becoming the norm, rather than archaeology operating as one siloed form of investigation. It is these integrated investigations that allow exploration to prove/disprove long-held truths, break-down community barriers and build understanding of the long histories of a landscape.

This session aims to present projects that use a combination of investigations such as oral histories, archaeology or innovative technologies (e.g. GPR, Drones, GIS, Photogrammetry, Interactive Digital Media, etc) to support building a narrative that is reflective of the cultural landscape. The projects discussed will encompass community collaborations and focus on how different disciplines can collaborate with the archaeology.

Session Organisers:
Robyn Jenkins, RJ Heritage
Tanja Harding, Everick Foundation
Delyna Baxter, Charles Darwin University
Calum Farrar, Griffith University
Andrea Jalandoni, Griffith University
Sarah de Koning, The University of Western Australia

Highlighting Collaborative Research and Exploring Narratives of the Past in New Guinea

The early 1960s saw the commencement of professional archaeology in what was then the territories of Papua and New Guinea. These early investigations sought, among other aims, to develop models of trade and mobility, agriculture, and early human colonisation. These efforts continue up to today, with an increased emphasis on local collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches to seeking out knowledge of the past. For New Guinea archaeology, a uniting thread that runs throughout is the active incorporation of local knowledge systems into archaeological investigations. The majority of PNG archaeology is informed by active collaboration between the researcher and the local traditional landowners. This session seeks to highlight and promote the varied approaches and multidisciplinary methodologies applied by researchers, and research results that incorporate local narratives into investigations and interpretations. By actively promoting collaboration between communities and researchers, more refined and inclusive research projects can be developed which result in a more nuanced understanding of past narratives.

Session Organisers:
Jason Kariwiga, University of Papua New Guinea
Matthew Leavesley, University of Papua New Guinea

Rock Art Stories

Rock art is often viewed as being able to give unprecedented insights into past lifeworlds and ways of thinking. It is seen as a reflection of human creativity and innovation. Rock art provides the basis for an understanding of past technical expertise as well as cultural perspectives. As such, rock art has often influenced narratives about past and present Indigenous peoples and their cultures in Australia and beyond. In other contexts, rock art has been interpreted as reflecting real or mythological stories in the deep past and as such, allowing unique perspectives onto past belief systems and social as well as environmental relationships.

This session will be hosted by the National Scientific Committee of Rock Art in Australia (NSCRAA) to provide a platform for knowledge and experiences of varied approaches to understanding the past to be shared, including innovative methods and methodologies, which enable all voices to join together to celebrate truth and the visibility of alternative ways of knowing, being and doing. We invite contributions that explore the many intersections between rock art and narratives. These contributions can have a research historical orientation or can discuss how stories were expressed in rock art itself.

This session will be hosted by the Australia ICOMOS National Scientific Committee on Rock Art Australia.

Session Organisers:
Melissa Marshall, The University of Notre Dame Australia
Sally May, University of Adelaide
Martin Porr, The University of Western Australia
Ken Mulvaney, The University of Western Australia
Jake Goodes, Parks Victoria

Shared and Contested Narratives in the History of Australian and Pacific Archaeology

The Australian Archaeological Association defines archaeology as ‘the study of the human past through the material remains that people have left behind’. However, archaeology is also a reflective endeavour that requires its practitioners to be critical of the narratives that are created and to investigate their foundations, influences, and impacts. While archaeology undoubtedly influences and creates different narratives about the past, it also influences and creates different narratives about the present and even the future. Archaeological narratives continue to be influenced and shaped by numerous factors, including input from different disciplinary traditions and the involvement of those whose voices have been less often foregrounded. These may be the voices of First Nations knowledge holders, ‘amateur’ archaeologists, women, and/or representatives of other historically marginalised groups. These latter aspects show the complicated and often contested nature of archaeological narratives. They also draw attention to the need for systematic historical reflection and analysis of archaeological practices and interpretations to allow more balanced understandings of the past, the present, and the future.

We welcome papers on all aspects of shared and contested narratives in the history of archaeology in Australia and the Pacific Islands, especially those considering the involvement of First Nations knowledge holders.

Session Organisers:
Hilary Howes, Australian National University
Martin Porr, The University of Western Australia
Matthew Spriggs, Australian National University

Shared Heritage in the Consulting World

Consulting archaeologists in Australia find themselves at something of a crossroads. The recent repeal of a modestly modernising Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act in Western Australia and the ongoing review of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 in Queensland have exposed a deeply ingrained indifference within the mainstream community towards the heritage of First Nations people in Australia. Nonetheless, First Nations people and consulting archaeologists are finding new ways of collaborating in the protection, management, and celebration of cultural heritage, often outside of the traditional legislative framework of Cultural Heritage Management (CHM).

This session presents consulting projects that seek to push the boundaries of CHM practice, recognising that these boundaries are somewhat different between the states and territories. Common themes, however, include an ever-greater shift towards active rather than passive management of cultural heritage, increasing emphasis on multiple voices in discussions of significance, and a broadening of the legislative context within which cultural heritage is considered. We explore how these changes have worked in placing a greater emphasis on First Nations’ voices and discuss how this shift in focus might affect a broader change in the public perception of Indigenous cultural heritage where traditional scientific approaches have failed to do so.

This session will be hosted by Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc (AACAI).

Session Organisers:
Ian Ryan, Echoes Cultural Heritage Management
Robyn Jenkins, RJ Heritage
Wendy Reynen, Big Island Research

Shared Signals? Crafting New Narratives and Approaches to Northern Australian Rock Art

Rock art is a ‘narrative’ that both shares and manages knowledge as the world around it changes. Northern Australia is particularly rich in rock arts ranging from deep time to shallow time, but their variety and volume make it hard for outsiders to categorise and understand its narrative. Some rock art ‘styles’ seem to connect vast and dispersed parts of northern Australia, while others seem particular to certain areas. By using historical and contemporary narratives associated with some rock arts as well as using archaeology’s formal methods of rock art analysis and dating, we aim to reactivate old narratives and activate new ones. But the narrative has also evolved from pure research to include that which our project partners consider important, such as On Country trips, skills development for land and sea managers, issues of cultural and intellectual property and inter-generational knowledge transfer. We invite papers that explore the rich diversity of northern Australian rock arts and their narratives, and which draw attention to comparative analyses of distinctive styles, shared themes, and emic and etic approaches.

Session Organisers:
Sven Ouzman, The University of Western Australia
Liam Brady, Flinders University
Tristen Jones, The University of Sydney

Sharing Community-Owned Narratives to Heritage Management

“People were accessing our Country, when our mob was in the missions, and they come back and tell us they know better than us, we don’t know any stories. It’s more about how do we bridge that gap to take ownership of what’s ours.” Cissy Gore Birch.

The Gariwerd Rock Art Management Forum (2023) was held in Gariwerd (Grampians, Victoria) on the lands of the Djab Wurrung, Jadawadajali (Wotjobaluk Nations) and Gunditjmara peoples. More than 150 Indigenous rangers and Elders from across Australia shared knowledge, experiences and challenges of caring for rock art and cultural heritage places.  Through the resulting collaborative partnership formed by the session organisers, the importance of including different narratives and worldviews into heritage management is emphasized; providing avenues to consider cultural approaches, scientific matters, and more which embrace a holistic perspective where archaeology serves as part of the science to tell the story comprehensively.

The proposed sessions and panels present an opportunity for community-driven collaborations to showcase and celebrate collective approaches to managing archaeological, biocultural, and heritage places/landscapes. Here, narratives and ways of knowing, being and doing are visibly celebrated, emphasizing integration of diverse perspectives to ensure a comprehensive understanding and management of cultural places.

Session Organisers:
Nathalia Guimaraes, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation
Darren Griffin, Barengi Gadjin Land Council
Chrystle Carr, Barengi Gadjin Land Council
Michael Douglas, Barengi Gadjin Land Council
Billy Briggs, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation
Emily Corris, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation
Billy Bell, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
John Clarke, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation
Troy Lovett, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
Jake Goodes, Parks Victoria
Wendy Luke, Parks Victoria
David Lucas, Parks Victoria
Lloyd Pilgram, The University of Notre Dame Australia
Melissa Marshall, The University of Notre Dame Australia
Cissy Gore Birch, Kimberley Cultural Connections
Leroy Malseed, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
Amber Munkara, Barengi Gadjin Land Council

Sharing the Archaeology of SE Cape York Peninsula: The Agayrr Bamangay Milbi Project

For the past four years, researchers have been working in partnership with members of six Aboriginal Corporations in SE Cape York Peninsula and QPWS to record a range of cultural heritage places, sites and knowledge as part of the Agayrr Bamangay Milbi (ABM) Project. More than 1000 sites have been documented, including rock art sites, culturally modified trees, shell middens, ochre quarries, artefact concentrations and historic places. Funded through the ARC Linkage scheme, the ABM Project emphasises practical, community-driven outcomes, including management plans that capture community aspirations. This session will present some of the preliminary findings, including unparalleled preservation of fibrework, glass beads, new rock art styles, bone artefacts, shell artefacts, resins, ochre provenance, and more. Presentations in this session will be jointly delivered with community members who have been integral to the design and implementation of the project, as well as interpretation of findings.

Session Organisers:
Lynley Wallis, Griffith University
Regan Hart, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

Stories All the Way Down: Narrating the Past in the Present

Storytelling is one key characteristic that makes us human. Yet, the relationship between archaeology and the notion of narratives is a complex and often contradictory one. While narratives continue to be more widely accepted as a fundamental way of conveying the meaning of interpretations, they have traditionally often been perceived in opposition to systematic observations and scientific approaches. This situation might contribute to archaeology’s uneasy relationship with historical disciplines and their use of archaeological evidence to construct narratives of the past (or Deep History) for a broader readership. However, archaeology itself has often made sense of the past through grand narratives of trade, the emergence of social stratification, climatic changes, or technological innovation and progress. Indigenous understandings have a different focus again, describing the past as agentive, and intertwined with present peoples and Country, populated by ancestors and the traces of their lives. Our session seeks to unpack, reflect on, and critique the relationships between archaeological theory and practice and storytelling, including the impact of different epistemological approaches and ontological understandings. We invite papers that explore new and multivocal ways of narrating the past in the present and reflect on the future of storytelling in archaeology.

This session will be hosted by the Australian Theoretical Archaeology Group (AusTAG).

Session Organisers:
Martin Porr, The University of Western Australia
Chris Urwin, Monash University
Madeleine Kelly, Monash University
Kellie Pollard, Charles Darwin University

Tales from Tools: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Stone Artefacts

Stone artefacts are a prominent feature of the Australian archaeological record, providing abundant opportunities to learn about people and place. This session aims to explore the multifaceted narratives encapsulated in, and revealed by the study of, lithic technologies, including both ground and knapped stone technologies. Reflecting on this year’s conference theme, our session invites contributions that merge traditional archaeological methods with innovative interdisciplinary approaches to build narratives that recognise the deep connections between people and their tools through time, including in the present time.

The study of stone artefacts can provide insights about the ways that people lived on and moved across Country, how they interacted with one another, and how cultural practices have changed or not changed. By incorporating oral history and Traditional Knowledge, geology, geochemistry, microscopy, and digital modelling, among other approaches, we seek to enhance our understanding of how people obtained raw materials, and manufactured, used, transported and traded tools. This session uses stone artefacts as a focal point to celebrate the diverse methods by which we can reconstruct meaningful narratives and contribute towards a richer, more inclusive archaeological discourse.

Session Organisers:
Rebekah Kurpiel, La Trobe University
Kane Ditchfield, The University of Western Australia

When Absence is Presence: Sharing Epistemologies to Bring Understanding to Narratives of Absence

Most cultural heritage legislation in Australia is based on the premise that an absence of archaeological evidence – or other forms of tangible cultural heritage – is evidence for absence and therefore the basis for development to proceed unimpeded. This approach to the presence/absence of objects privileges Western ontologies of human-centered explanations for the absence of material remains. But what if absence is in fact a different type of presence?

In a recent paper, Brady et al. (2024) have asked: “What if Indigenous presence cannot always be seen, measured, or analyzed or if presence is communicated in different ways, not reliant upon tangible markers or objects? What if one must be taught to see this presence? These questions are of fundamental importance to archaeology, particularly when working closely with Indigenous peoples and as a discipline born of the pursuit of tangible evidence where there may be no such measure possible”.

In this session we reflect on the concept of ‘absence’. We encourage the recognition of ‘other’ ways of knowing – and particularly Indigenous ways of knowing – as frameworks for renegotiating narratives about ‘gaps in the record’. We seek papers that challenge standard ways of understanding absence as a form of ‘lack’, and encourage collaborative papers that emphasise interpretations ‘with/by and for’ Indigenous heritage owners.

Session Organisers:
Annie Ross, The University of Queensland
Liam Brady, Flinders University
Emily Poelina-Hunter, Monash University