There from the start: Aboriginal involvement in the early development of Australian archaeology

Matthew Spriggs, Lynette W. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


While it is certainly the case that Indigenous Australians have suffered the consequences of being treated in an objectifying and derogatory fashion during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries by archaeologists and others, they
were not mere observers of the creation of a 65,000-year narrative of their history that has become important in the modern story of Australia. Rather, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were involved in illuminating knowledge of Australia’s
deep history from at least as early as the 1830s. This story has not been told up to now. By examining the extent of early Indigenous involvement in the development of Australian archaeology, this paper demonstrates that far from archaeological research
having been something simply imposed upon Aboriginal people, their intellectual property has been critical in all stages of its development. At a time when serious gaps are being identified in the ways the history of Australian archaeology has been
presented, it is an urgent task to insert this hidden history of Indigenous involvement in Australia’s archaeology. Reading ‘against the grain’, we seek to bring to the fore the role of Aboriginal interlocutors whose opinions and expertise were constantly sought by early archaeologists grappling with establishing archaeological frameworks
to understand the deep history of a continent. Deconstructing the current master narratives of the history of Australian archaeology will have significant ramifications for how the discipline is taught and practiced, and for the general public’s appreciation
of the role of Indigenous Australians in shaping the nation’s history.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalBulletin of the History of Archaeology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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