1991 …2023
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Personal profile

Biography

The past for the future

ANTHROPOLOGICAL ARCHAEOLOGIST Professor Ian 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 First Nations societies and what it was like before and after European arrival/invasion. Fundamental to Ian's approach to research is Indigenous community engagement and involvement and ensuring that all of his research projects are collaborative projects where Indigenous communities are central to research development, implementation, analysis, interpretation, and outreach and outputs.

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.

'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.'

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 over the past 20 years the origins of Torres Strait Islander maritime specialisation.

'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 the past 9000 years.'

Also off the Queensland coast, Ian has been involved in studying the archaeology of Aboriginal use of the Great Barrier Reef. This research has been a collaboration between Ian and the Darumbal (Shoalwater Bay region) and also between Ian, JCU archaeologists, and the Dingaal (Lizard Island north of Cairns).

In Darumbal sea country '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 liquified 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 has become Victoria's second World Heritage listing: the Budj Bim Cultural 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 at least 6600 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.

In July 2019, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. This is a great achievement for the Gunditjmara community and a major opportunity for this heritage to be shared with the world.

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 1991 2019

1 Citation (Scopus)
Open Access
File

A Holocene record of savanna vegetation dynamics in southern lowland Papua New Guinea

Rowe, C., David, B., Mialanes, J., Ulm, S., Petchey, F., Aird, S., McNiven, I. J., Leavesley, M. & Richards, T., 2019, (Accepted/In press) In : Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. 14 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Indigenous Knowledge and Resource Management as World Heritage Values: Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, Australia

Smith, A., McNiven, I. J., Rose, D., Brown, S., Johnston, C. & Crocker, S., 1 Jan 2019, In : Archaeologies. 15, 2, p. 285-313 29 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Meta-analysis of Queensland's coastal Indigenous fisheries: Examining the archaeological evidence for geographic and temporal patterning

Lambrides, A. B. J., McNiven, I. J. & Ulm, S., 1 Dec 2019, In : Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 28, p. 1-11 11 p., 102057.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Peuple de la mer/People of the sea

David, B. & McNiven, I., 2019, Badu Island: Une Mission des Exlporations de Monaco. p. 10-13 4 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Other

Activities 1998 2018

  • 7 Collaboration on community projects
  • 5 Editorial responsibility

Lizard Island Archaeological Project

Ian McNiven (Director), Sean Ulm (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

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

Torres Strait Archaeological Project

Ian McNiven (Director)
2018 → …

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