The archaeological investigation of Long Point, Coorong
Background context: Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management at Long Point
During 2007 representatives of Dapung Talkinyeri Aboriginal Corporation approached Steve Hemming (Flinders University) to coordinate a cultural heritage survey and report dealing with the lands in the Long Point area of the Coorong. This proposal was used as part of a broader successful application for funding made to the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) Indigenous Heritage Program. A Flinders Consulting team consisting of Steve Hemming, Lynley Wallis, Chris Wilson and Alice Gorman subsequently carried out a survey to identify archaeological sites in the area and provide recommendations for the management of Dapung Talkinyeri lands. A burial was located during the surveys and a Flinders team led by Lynley Wallis subsequently carried out an emergency salvage excavation and reburial of the Old Person, under the supervision of Ngarrindjeri community members (and with additional funding support from the SA Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division).
One of the major realisations from the original survey project was the excellent archaeological potential of the Long Point area. After numerous discussions with Ngarrindjeri community representatives about the value of such research, a second phase of the project was instigated in 2008, focused around archaeological excavations of some of the identified middens; this phase of the project was also supported by a Sir Mark Mitchell Foundation grant. These achaeological excavations were carried out as a collaborative field school between Flinders University, Dapung Talkinyeri and the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee for two weeks during April 2008.
The 2008 Long Point Field School
The Long Point Field school was designed to pursue research of interest to both the Ngarrindjeri and the broader academic, archaeological community, and in doing so provide archaeology and heritage management training to community members and students. The following people participated during the field school:
- Dr Lynley Wallis, Project Director(Flinders University)
- Duncan Wright, Co-coordinator (Flinders University/Monash University)
- Chris Wilson, Teaching Assistant (Flinders University)
- Kelly Wiltshire, Teaching Assistant (Monash University)
- Morgan Disspain, Research Assistant, (Flinders University)
- Ngarrindjeri community representatives and rangers: George Trevorrow, Tom Trevorrow, Luke Trevorrow, Cyril Trevorrow, Joe Trevorrow, Major Sumner, Clive Rigney, Ronnie Clarke, Richie Walker, Phil Kartinjeri, Scott Long, Aaron Wilson, Josh Rigney, Steven Rigney, Dennis Rigney
- Vida Sumner, Dooley Lovegrove and Jess Lindsay
- Peter Ross (Master of Maritime Archaeology student, Flinders University)
- David Guilfoyle, Jerry Narkle and Zac Webb (South Coast NRM)
- Students from the ARCH8305 Archaeological Field Methods Class
Archaeological research questions
The research underpinning the field school was designed to contribute to furthering a detailed understanding of Ngarrindjeri occupation of the Coorong region in South Australia over the past 7000 years. It will assist us in developing a better understanding of the timing and nature of human adaptation to, and use of, coastal environments and resources.
Uniquely situated in close proximity to a range of coastal marine environments, freshwater lake systems and the Murray River system, the Coorong is a resource rich area. As a consequence of the easy availability of abundant resources, prior to European settlement the Coorong was one of the most densely populated regions of Australian (Tindale 1974). Although Tindale (1956, 1957) and his contemporary Campbell (1934, 1939, 1947; Campbell et al. 1946) showed an early interest in the Aboriginal occupation of the Coorong, the area generally escaped the sustained attention of archaeologists until the mid-1970s, when Roger Luebbers (1978) undertook his PhD research. This was followed by approximately six years of detailed surface surveys and occasional excavations by Luebbers (1981, 1982, 1983).
On the basis of his accumulated knowledge about the archaeological landscape of the Coorong, Luebbers (1982) suggested there had been four main phases of occupation:
(1) Early Settlement Phase dating from 6,000 to 4,500 years BP
(2) Initial Coastal Settlement Phase dating from 4,500 to 2,000 years BP
(3) Intensive Settlement Phase dating from 2,000 years BP to ~1840s AD
(4) Refugee Phase dating from 1840s to 1940s.
Despite the high quality of Luebbers’ research, he himself noted that it was only preliminary in nature and recommended that detailed survey, research and assessment was required in order to “provide substantive data upon which the timing, formational mechanisms and the primary characteristics of this [cultural] development” in the Coorong (Luebbers 1982:4). As examples of some of the deficits in Luebbers’ research, his Early Settlement Phase was predicated on a single radiocarbon date (Luebbers 1982:3), while data were insufficient for him to describe the features of the Initial Coastal Settlement Phase (Luebbers 1982:4). Since Luebbers’ pioneering work, there has been no systematic archaeological investigation of the Coorong. Almost without exception the only archaeological projects that have been pursued in the region have been ‘cultural heritage clearances’ in response to increasing developmental pressure. Such projects rarely produce knowledge about the archaeology of the region that is useful in a research context.
The main aim of the Long Point project is to test these hypotheses about Indigenous settlement of the Coorong, thereby building upon the preliminary archaeological knowledge developed by Luebbers more than two decades ago. Through archaeological excavations of sites previously identified within the Long Point area of the Coorong (Wallis 2007a, 2007b), it is hoped we will begin to develop a more detailed understanding of Indigenous utilisation of marine and terrestrial resources, and the nature of the hypothesised settlement phases.
The 2008 field school involved producing comprehensive surface plans of the cultural landscape and conducting archaeological excavations of four shell middens at Long Point. Sites were recorded using GPS, photography, baseline-offset surveying and total station EDM surveying. Standard archaeological excavation techniques were used to excavate a series of test-pits at various locations. Excavation was carried out in 5 cm arbitrary spits, until bedrock or sterile deposits are encountered. All deposit was passed though 6 and 3 mm nested sieves and sieve residues were bagged and returned to Flinders University for sorting and laboratory analysis which is currently underway. In-situ charcoal and shell samples were taken during excavation to enable radiocarbon determinations to be obtained and thereby develop a temporal framework for human use of the area.
A detailed analysis of the excavated assemblages, which include shellfish, terrestrial faunal remains, otoliths (fish bones), charcoal and stone artefacts, will be carried out during 2008 and 2009 by two Flinders University Honours students (Claire St George and Morgan Disspain) in order to address questions relating to the utilisation of marine and terrestrial resources of the Coorong, including aspects of the post-sea level stabilisation Holocene palaeoenvironment and palaeoecology.
The Long Point project has so far revealed a great deal about the longterm history of Ngarrindjeri occupation of this part of the Coorong. However, as the analyses of the assemblages from this project are stil ongoing, no detailed conclusions concerning the archaeology of Long Point can yet be made. The following list includes some of the reports relating to the broader Long Point project:
- Hemming, S. 2007. Dapung Talkinyeri Long Point Cultural Heritage Project. Cultural, Historical and Contemporary Issues: Overview and recommendations.
- Simmonds, L. 2007. Using GIS to assist cultural and natural heritage management planning at Long Point, Coorong, South Australia. Unpublished report prepared for Dapung Takinyeri Aboriginal Corporation and ARCH8508 Directed Study in Cultural Heritage Management Topic, Flinders University.
- Wallis, L.A. 2007a. Long Point Indigenous Cultural Heritage Survey: Archaeological results (Stage One, Section 571). Unpublished report to the Dapung Talkinjeri Aboriginal Corporation.
- Wallis, L.A. 2007b. Long Point Indigenous Cultural Heritage Survey: Archaeological results (Stage Two, Section 572). Unpublished report to the Dapung Talkinjeri Aboriginal Corporation and Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee.
- Wallis, L.A. 2007c. Emergency Salvage Excavation and Reburial of an Old Person at Long Point, Coorong. Unpublished report to the Dapung Talkinjeri Aboriginal Corporation, Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee and Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority.
Wallis, L.A. and M. Disspain. 2008. Archaeological Excavations of Midden Sites at Long Point, April 2008. Unpublished report prepared for the Dapung Talkinyeri Aboriginal Corporation, Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee and Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority Inc.
In addition, two honours theses are currently being completed (scheduled for completion in November 2009) in the Dept of Archaeology at Flinders University based on the Long Point Field School excavations:
- Claire St George - Investigating the Mid- to Late Holocene Indigenous Occupation of Long Point, Coorong, South Australia
- Morgan Disspain - Using archaeological otoliths to determine palaeoenvironmental change and Ngarrindjeri resource exploitation in the Coorong, South Australia
Funding for the excavations and radiocarbon dating of the Long Point sites during April 2008 was generously provided by a Sir Mark Mitchell Research Foundation Grant.
Other funding bodies including the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) Indigenous Heritage Program and the SA Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (Office of Premier and Cabinet, SA Government) funded aspects of the broader Long Point heritage project.