The Archaeology & Heritage team at AMBS celebrated National Archaeology Week, 17-23 May, by showcasing the Australian Museum's role in archaeological investigations and cultural heritage management for urban planning and environmental assessment.
Story by Jennie Lindbergh, Senior Project Manager, AMBS.
Australian Museum Business Services
AMBS (Australian Museum Business Services) Archaeology & Heritage has an established reputation for providing quality consultancy services in the areas of Aboriginal and historical archaeology, built, industrial and landscape heritage. Staff have experience in preparing conservation management plans, interpretation plans and archaeological assessments. Supporting documentation for environmental and impact assessments is based on detailed research, site surveys, and significance assessments. Money generated from this work helps support ongoing scientific research at the Australian Museum.
National Archaeology Week, 17-23 May
The following is an extract from one of the National Archaeology Week posters displayed by AMBS in Search & Discover, Level 2 at the Australian Museum.
Archaeology and the Australian Museum
Since the colonial settlement of Sydney layers of buildings have been constructed over historic (since 1788) and Aboriginal archaeological sites. These have to be assessed and excavated prior to any building proposal, as part of the urban planning and environmental assessment process.
Modern planning laws protecting archaeological sites in NSW were introduced in the 1970s. Before this, Australian Museum scientists were often called out on an ad hoc basis to investigate sites that were going to be impacted by a development. One of these early excavations took place at Shea's Creek.
Nineteenth century salvage excavations at Shea's Creek
During construction in the late 1880s of a navigational canal floodplain to connect Botany Bay with Alexandria along the Shea's Creek, a large marine mammal skeleton was uncovered in silty deposits below the low water mark. It was located over one kilometre from the Cooks River, the closest source of deep water.
Such was the importance of this discovery that Robert Etheridge, the director of the Australian Museum, T. W. Edgworth David, geology professor at the University of Sydney, and J.W. Grimshaw were called to investigate the archaeological site at Shea's Creek. The large skeleton was found to be that of a Dugong (Dugong dugon), a large marine mammal which inhabits the tropical and subtropical waters of northern Australia, but is not known to commonly inhabit the colder waters adjacent to the current NSW coast.
Recently, the Dugong bones from this site were radiocarbon dated and found to be about 6,000 years old. The presence of the bones suggests that water temperatures in the Sydney region were once warmer. Another intriguing aspect to this site is the presence of cut marks on the bones of the Dugong skeleton. Stone axe heads were found in the archaeological deposits, above and below the Dugong skeleton, suggesting that Aboriginal people inhabited the area of Shea's Creek at this time and butchered the Dugong for food.
The recording and analysis of the Shea's Creek site in 1896 provided important scientific, anthropological and archaeological information which has contributed to our understanding of both the climate and past Aboriginal occupation of the area. This record is still relevant to recent studies which use archaeological evidence to examine climate change over time.
Undertaking assessment and analysis of archaeological sites not only provides information which is relevant to our present understanding of the past, but also has the potential to make an important contribution to future research projects.