1994 …2023
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Personal profile

Biography

Making mountains out of eel traps

Dr Ian J. McNiven is digging in support of Australian Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Papua New Guinean communities - with international ramifications. His work is changing understandings of Aboriginal society and what it was like before Europeans got here.

One of Ian's largest undertakings has been in far north Queensland, where he has helped Torres Strait Islanders with the world's largest native title claim over the sea.

andldquo;I was the archaeological expert witness. I was requested to provide detailed background documentation about who Torres Strait Islanders were in the past to assist Justice Paul Finn of the Federal Court of Australia make assessments of the degree of cultural continuity between current generations of Torres Strait Islanders and their ancestors.andrdquo;




Legal precedents are nothing new for the region, however:

'Torres Strait Islanders seem to lead the way here, with native title claims for the land (the historic Mabo decision), and now they've done the same with the sea. They like going for it.'

Ian's expertise comes from having investigated the origins of Torres Strait Islanders over the past 15 years.

'They're one of the most specialised maritime cultures in the world, but with lower sea levels ten thousand years ago, Torres Strait was Torres Plain - dry land studded with isolated hills.

'Why do you have this archipelago now, with these incredible marine specialists, hunting turtles and dugongs, and eating four hundred different species of marine foods? Through our archaeological research out of Monash University, we have been able to track the development of Torres Strait Islander society over 9000 years.

Also off the Queensland coast, Ian has been involved in studying the archaeology of Aboriginal use of the Great Barrier Reef.

'On the southern Great Barrier Reef, we've excavated a site on an island off the coast of Shoalwater Bay that reveals Aboriginal use of marine resources back to 5500 years ago. To get to the island required a canoe voyage across some 25 kilometres of open sea. That is no mean feat in a bark canoe.

'It is interesting to think that at 5500 years ago, Polynesia wasn't even on the human global map. There's nobody in the remote Pacific at this time. It's empty of people. There's no such thing as 'Hawaiians', there's no such thing as 'Easter Islanders'. There are no people in Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa and New Zealand - these people don't exist at this time. The Pacific was a different world back then, and Aboriginal Australians were some of its earliest voyagers.'

One of Ian's biggest endeavours, however, has been excavations associated with development projects in Papua New Guinea.

'Basically, we had every single archaeology student and more from the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, and more from around the world, salvaging archaeological sites before ExxonMobil built their 10 billion dollar gas plant. We would have twenty or so university students digging with us every day - and so we were helping train the future generation of archaeologists in Papua New Guinea. It was an incredibly rewarding exercise.'

Ian has also been instrumental in lobbying for what would be Victoria's second World Heritage listing: the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape centring on Lake Condah in the Western District. This landscape contains extraordinary evidence of ancient Aboriginal aquaculture belonging to the Gunditjmara people.

'We've got fish traps going back something like 6500 years, making them some of the world's oldest. The complexity of it is outstanding - really on a world scale.'

Working closely in partnership with the Gunditjmara people, Ian's discoveries are helping to force a re-evaluation of Aboriginal Australians as strictly foragers.

Some of the best work to come out of the excavations in western Victoria, however, has been cross-cultural, rather than archaeological.

'The excavations have been through my field methods class. Because the Aboriginal community owns the land, I get to introduce the students to a completely new dimension of Australia, and it's probably that dimension which has been the most significant to them. The students can see how the Gunditjmara manage, and look after, their landscapes - that's the big eye opener for them.

Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Projects 2003 2023

ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage

Roberts, R. G., O'Connor, S., Lawson, J., Jacobs, Z., Cohen, T., Haberle, S., Bird, M., Ulm, S., Turney, C. S. M., Nakata, N., Curnoe, D., Cooper, A., Bradshaw, C. J. A., Weyrich, L., David, B., Russell, L., Brook, B. W., Johnson, C. N., Asmussen, B., Knowles, C., Torrence, R., Slack, M., Delannoy, J., Leavesley, M., Miller, G., Schiffels, S., Storey, M. & McNiven, I.

Monash University – Internal University Contribution, Monash University – Internal Faculty Contribution

30/06/1731/12/23

Project: Research

Research Output 1994 2018

Complex history of dog (Canis Familiaris) origins and translocations in the Pacific revealed by ancient mitogenomes

Greig, K., Gosling, A., Collins, C., Boocock, J., McDonald, K., Addison, D. J., Allen, M. S., David, B., Gibbs, M., Higham, C. F. W., Liu, F., McNiven, I. J., O'Connor, S., Tsang, C. H., Walter, R. & Matisoo-Smith, E., 2018, In : Scientific Reports. 8, 9130, p. 1-9 9 p., 9130.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access
File

Inhabited Landscapes

McNiven, I. J., 2018, The Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences. Lopez Varela, S. L. (ed.). Wiley-Blackwell, p. 1-5 5 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEncyclopaedia / Dictionary EntryResearchpeer-review

Introduction: Towards an Archaeology and Anthropology of Rock Art

David, B. & McNiven, I. J., 2018, The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Rock Art. David, B. & McNiven, I. J. (eds.). Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, p. 1-21 21 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

Ritual mutilation of Europeans on the torres strait maritime frontier

McNiven, I. J., 3 Jul 2018, In : Journal of Pacific History. 53, 3, p. 229-251 23 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Stylistic analysis of stone arrangements supports regional cultural interactions along the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Fitzpatrick, A., McNiven, I. J., Specht, J. & Ulm, S., 4 May 2018, In : Australian Archaeology. 84, 2, p. 129-144 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Activities 1998 2018

  • 7 Collaboration on community projects
  • 5 Editorial responsibility

Torres Strait Archaeological Project

Ian McNiven (Director)
2018 → …

Activity: Community Talks, Presentations, Exhibitions and EventsCollaboration on community projects

Maritime Settlement of Southern New Guinea Project

Ian McNiven (Director), Bruno David (Director), Thomas Henry Richards (Director)
2018 → …

Activity: Community Talks, Presentations, Exhibitions and EventsCollaboration on community projects

Shoalwater Bay Darumbal Archaeological Project

Ian McNiven (Director)
2018 → …

Activity: Community Talks, Presentations, Exhibitions and EventsCollaboration on community projects

Gunditjmara Archaeological Project

Ian McNiven (Director)
2018 → …

Activity: Community Talks, Presentations, Exhibitions and EventsCollaboration on community projects

Lizard Island Archaeological Project

Ian McNiven (Director), Sean Ulm (Director)
2018 → …

Activity: Community Talks, Presentations, Exhibitions and EventsCollaboration on community projects