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Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill

native title claim

Josephine McDonald


Jo McDonald Cultural Heritage Management Pty Ltd

This paper examines the nature of some of the

archaeological evidence used in the De Rose Hill
native title claim. It discusses aspects of the work
commissioned by the Native Title Section of the South
Australian Crown Solicitors Office (CSO) (McDonald
2000a).1 Both the nature of archaeological evidence
sought by the CSO in relation to the claimed land is
discussed, as is the form that this data collection took.
Also considered is the claimants archaeological report
(Veth 1998) and the archaeological methodology used
in its construction. The Yankunytjatjara peoples made
this native title claim. This native title case was the
first heard by the Federal Court of Australia in
relation to a pastoral lease. The first respondent was
the Crown, the second respondent the pastoralists.
The archaeological evidence was not a point of
contestation in this claim. The archaeological evidence
gathered by the claimants archaeologist and the
Crowns archaeologist was seen as supporting several
important components of the Native Title Act 1993:
There was evidence of an identifiable society or
community in occupation of the claim area at the
time of British acquisition of sovereignty of that
There was evidence of maintained connection
with the land, by dint of (as far as practicable)
continuing traditional customs, laws and practices.
The methodological implications of collecting
evidence for native title claims is discussed in terms of
the broader ramifications for archaeological practice.
At De Rose Hill, the archaeological fieldwork was
claimant-driven on one side and motivated by a
validation exercise on the other. The claim took place
in a region that is well understood archaeologically
and anthropologically in its broader sense (i.e. the
Western Desert cultural bloc) but in the complete
absence of local contextual research (i.e. previous site
survey, recording, excavation and so on).
The absence of contestation in this process
the result of both sides reaching similar conclusions
with regards to the nature of the archaeological
evidence on the landdemonstrated that testing of

Abstract: This paper examines the nature of some of the

archaeological evidence used in the De Rose Hill native title
claim. The archaeological evidence was not a point of
contestation in this claim. Archaeological evidence gathered
by the claimants archaeologist and the Crowns archaeologist was seen as supporting several important components
of the Native Title Act 1993. The methodological implications of collecting evidence for native title claims are
discussed in terms of the broader ramifications for archaeological practice.


Australian Aboriginal Studies 2005/1

Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

archaeological issues does not have to be counterproductive nor acrimonious. While the Federal Courts
instructions to native title expert witnesses states that
this role is not to be seen as adversarial, there are
many examples of this occurringparticularly with
anthropological evidenceand particularly where
the Crown is aggressively contesting native title.
The data collection process on both sides was
sometimes at considerable variance to the conventional
manner in which systematic survey and documentation of archaeological evidence is usually collected,
be it for research or cultural heritage management.
Archaeological research usually aims to purposively
sample and document landscapes in a manner that
allows predictive statements to be made, patterns of
occupation to be gleaned and falsifiable conclusions
to be drawn. Veths initial recording of the archaeological evidence was at the behest of the claimants. It
focused on sites known to the claimantsand
locations that were of contemporary importance to
the claimants (mythological, evidence for residence
and historic association). The claimants targeted
sites for which they had knowledge and memory of
use. The recording exercise by the Crown involved
finding the claimants sites, and validating the earlier
recordings (usually in the absence of claimants). This
highlighted that archaeologists, if left to their own
devices, conventionally collect different types of data
(assuming levels of competence and vigilance). For
instance, if interested in open site archaeology, an
archaeologist would not usually record a specific
point location within an open artefact scatter in the
absence of its broader manifestations (i.e. continual
artefact distributions with variable densities and foci
along hundreds of metres of creekline). Similarly, in a
complex of rock-art shelters, it would be unconventional to record only evidence from one shelter when
there were five more within close proximityand a
clinal evidence of stone artefacts between this and a
nearby claypan open site. Archaeologists usually
endeavour to understand an archaeological landscape
in terms of its overall presence and interspatial
patterningto understand how a site fits within a
network of related features.
A random stratified or systematic approach to
data collection across a landscape may well result in a
more comprehensive documentation of all surface
archaeological evidence in a broad landscape sense.
Arguably what are recorded, however, are the
palimpsests of long-term occupation. On the other
hand, the claimants have selectively identified those

aspects of the archaeological record that are of

importance to them. The approach taken by the
Crowns archaeologistusing GPS tracking technology but initially in the absence of knowledgeable
traditional ownersmeant that sites not recorded by
the claimants archaeologist were often locatedif at
the expense of multiple flat tyres! The claimants
arguably recognise the presence of archaeological
evidence distributed more widely across the land, but
they were only interested in identifying those
aspects that had meaning to them and their claim.
Archaeologists often spend many field seasons,
excavations and multiple dating exercises attempting
to distinguish, in this manner, sets of contemporary
and interrelated sites in a landscape.
The advent of native title driven archaeological
research means that archaeologists in the 1990s and
new millennium are seeking methodologies and
processes for dealing with the recent pastthe
settlerAboriginal interface. This is a very different
timeframe from that sought by early Australian
archaeologists where the quest for deep time and
human arrivals on this continent drove many research
agendas. And it results in a very different archaeology
to the conventional regional syntheses that have
dominated archaeological discourse over the last two
decades (Moser 1994).
This focus on the near contemporary is not a new
concept, and there has been a significant increase in
settler (contact) and/or community-based archaeological approaches, theorising and analyses which
contextualise its import (Beck & Somerville 1995; Bird
Rose 2000; Birmingham 2000; Clarke 2000; Field et al.
2000; Godwin & LOste Brown 2004; Harrison 2000,
2004; McIntyre-Tamwoy 2004; Mitchell 2000; Torrence
& Clarke 2000; Veth 2000b; Williamson 2004). Clarkes
work on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory
encapsulates the manner in which a communitybased approach structured her design and conduct of
fieldwork projects, modifying what she had initially
intended would be a traditional approach (Clarke
2000:1746). Methodologically, native title work is
different because of the nature of the process that
requires its collection (i.e. constrained by time and
already hugely expensive). As a result, archaeology
deriving from this process is fundamentally directed
at the documentation of pastoral domains, government depots, fringe camps, missions and other
remote area settings as the nexus for cross-cultural
interaction (Paterson 2005). This can be done to the
exclusion of the basic archaeological frameworks,

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Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

which usually provide a chronology of occupation,

cultural sequences and evidence for human relationships to environmental changes (Clarke 2000:175).
The types of archaeological evidence which are
considered to have relevance to native title are well
documented (e.g. Godwin & LOste Brown 2004;
Roberts 2001; Veth 2000b:83; Veth & McDonald 2004).
As has been pointed out, however, the material
signature of this time period is often ephemeral
(Colley & Bickford 1996; Sadr 2002). The introduction
of new material culture into the social and economic
repertoire (e.g. introduced fauna, tin cans, glass and
wire) will often have been affected by the power
dynamic of the cross-cultural interaction. Rationing,
methods of payment (to stockmen), social arrangement
in Aboriginal camps on pastoral stations (isolated
stockmen/shepherds, larger family groupings), the
cost of the goods, distance of the station from supply
zones, and so on, will all have affected the likelihood
of archaeological evidence persisting in large enough
quantities to register in the archaeological record.
Scarce commodities and recycling of these have also
often modified the archaeological record and reduced
the archaeological trace. As well as socioeconomic
factors affecting their material remains, taphonomic
processes similarly conspire to affect the likely
survival of this type of evidence. Many Aboriginal
camps, especially those close to homesteads, were
often cleaned with tractors, bulldozers and/or fire
(Paterson 2005:287). There is also evidence of entire
Aboriginal Reserves being removed lock, stock and
barrel to new locations, leaving few surface vestiges
attesting that the reserve ever existed (Godwin &
LOste Brown 2004:202). The types of evidence that
can be recorded to document early cross-cultural
contact, and which might assist in the documenting of
claimant-connected archaeology, may, at best, be
ephemeral (there are, of course, many large outstations
and depots that are still relatively intact, such as
The manner in which archaeological evidence is
collected for native title claims reflects time constraints
and the very specific questions being asked of the
evidence by the courts. Is there archaeological
evidence indicating that Aboriginal people used the
claim prior to sovereignty and at/after contact and is
there evidence that their persistent use of these lands
involved traditional practice?
In the absence of previous research and/or
recording work within claim areas, the most efficient and cost-effective way to collect archaeological


Australian Aboriginal Studies 2005/1

evidence is by targeting sites with contemporary

significance, with the assistance of claimants. In this
process, archaeologists need to also be able to broaden
their focus to identify potentially older sites or sites
which contain evidence of non-contemporary significance. This does not necessarily weaken the claimants
evidence; it merely enforces the long-term nature of
occupation on the land and the way that land use
practices have changed over time.
The way that archaeological evidence was gathered
for the De Rose native title claim was in some ways
unconventional in terms of then standard archaeological practice, in that it focused on selected sites and
involved recording of surface features only.2 This,
however, is now becoming commonplace in native
title determinations, and is aided by a burgeoning
broad literature on settler and cross-cultural interaction. In the absence of detailed archaeological
research, and given the constraints of time, this
approach is necessary if not totally desirable. The De
Rose Hill claim also highlighted the relevance of rock
art as archaeological evidence both to this claim and
to native title determinations generally (McDonald
2000b; Veth & McDonald 2004). This is discussed
further below.

De Rose Hill archaeological evidence

Because of the absence of systematic archaeological
work on the land, both the claimants and the
respondents archaeologists had to rely on broader
regional analysis to provide the archaeological
context for the evidence collected on the claim. The
claim is situated in the arid zone just south of the
South Australia Northern Territory border. The arid
zone has been the subject of archaeological research
since the late 1970s (Gould 1977; Hayden 1977). Mike
Smith (1987, 1988, 1993) in Central Australia and
others working in the broader Western Desert cultural
bloc (Cane 1990; Thorley 1998; Veth 1993, 1996, 2000a)
have developed models for the colonisation and
subsequent habitation of the arid zone.
Most researchers agree that settlement of even the
most forbidding desert environments had occurred
before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), before
20 000 years BP (Veth et al. 2005). It is generally
agreed that the ramified social networks recorded
ethnographically have functioned for at least 1000
years and possibly for as much as 5000 years (Smith
2005; Veth 2000a, 2005). The social organisation of
Western Desert people is anthropologically described

Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

as a large open network of overlapping and

interlocking social affiliations (Berndt 1966, 1972;
Sackett 1987; Tonkinson 1991). Anthropological
studies have formed the basis for most archaeological
research. This model has been reinforced and refined
by archaeological evidence and research.
Within this well-understood framework for
occupation, the De Rose Hill evidence was appraised.
Certain temporal markers were observed at a range of
sites. There is no excavated archaeological evidence
from the claim area to provide scientific proof as to
exactly how long this landscape has been occupied by
Aboriginal people. At one rockshelter there is evidence
for great antiquity in rock-art production. This
rockshelter has deeply patinated, pecked circle and
track engravings that are coated in desert varnish. At
this and several other rock-art shelters there is
evidence for a number of episodes of art production.
The range of raw materials was consistent with
localised resource use as well as the less common use
of exotic materials. The patterned distribution of sites
across the landscape was also predictable in terms of
broader arid zone patterns.
There is extensive archaeological evidence, in a
range of site types, across the De Rose Hill claim area.
This provides conclusive evidence for the longterm occupation of the claim area by Aboriginal
people, prior to sovereignty. This conclusion was
reached by both the claimants and the respondents
At a number of sites, elements were identified
among the assemblages that indicated continuing
traditional practices after European contact. These
included pastoral elements being incorporated into
traditional site types, such as fencing wire used in
traditional wiltje (dome-shaped bough) structures,
and metal axes used to produce wooden artefacts.
They also included, to a lesser extent, modified glass
and pottery and other materials occurring on a
background of traditional camping evidence. Evidence
of this nature included the use of traditional painting
techniques to depict post-contact subjects, such as the
painting of a man with a gun, on a horse.
The claimants submitted for radiocarbon determination charcoal from hearths they reported using
during and just before the pastoral period. Three of
these dates returned indistinguishable-from-modern
age determinations. The fourth sample returned a
date of c. 430 years BP. The three modern dates provide
archaeologically derived evidence that supports
camping on the claim area within living memory. The

older age determination (i.e. beyond living memory)

is not a refutation of the claimants memories. This
could either indicate the burning of old wood
(Barbetti 1996; McDonald et al. 1990), or demonstrate
that some camping locations were repeatedly used
over the centuries, as might be reasonably expected.
Both sides of the claim identified and recognised
the presence of archaeological evidence for continuing
traditional practices incorporating settler materials
and/or graphics. There were identified shortcomings
in the archaeological evidence in terms of providing
support (or not) for the claim. This involved standard
archaeological dilemmas:
the inability of stone tools to demonstrate
exclusive ethnicity; and
an absence of regional rock-art analysis disallowing
specific conclusions regarding possible ethnic
information residing in the local rock-art variability
within the claim area.
The fact that the claimants identified 40 sites to
their archaeologist (Veth 1998) was argued by the
claimants as evidence that they knew, owned and had
connections to the land. This knowledge was not
challenged by the Crown, although the nature of the
connection to the sites was questioned: how does one
distinguish between traditional use and use
connected with pastoral duties throughout this period
(cf. Sadr 2002)?
The nature of the claimants archaeological report
Veths (1998) report provided a summary of the
archaeological evidence documenting different attachments to the land. The report provides an environmental context for the claim area and summarised the
archaeological literature for the Western Desert
cultural bloc. The report also documented 40 field
sites with detailed recordings and photographs. The
report was based on the results of a single eight-day
field trip completed in 1998 with approximately 30
claimants. The claimants fieldwork had to contend
with an aggrieved pastoralist (e.g. access arranged by
Court order).
The stated aim of the fieldwork was to document
sites known to the claimants in a range of contexts.
No previous systematic research had been carried out
on the land, and there were no known sites in the
South Australian state register for this area either
(although sites had been recorded on adjacent
pastoral leases, and on the Pitjantjatjara Lands located
on the western boundary of the claim). Veth ordered

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Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

his documentation according to seven major

categories of evidence (representing common law
particulars of relevance to the Native Title Act 1993):
Possession, camping and residence
Hunting and gathering food
Building and using shelter
Using water
Digging for and using stones, ochres and minerals
Contemporary connections.
Veth concluded that the archaeological evidence
demonstrated irrefutably pre-contact use of the claim
area by Aboriginal people. This took the form of
habitation sites (in rockshelters and open contexts),
art production, quarry sites, and seed processing
locations. The archaeological evidence presented also
demonstrated ongoing traditional use of the claim
area, including:
the use of pastoral/post-contact materials in
traditional structures;
a number of recent (i.e. indistinguishable from
modern) age determinations from charcoal hearth
features in designated camping sites around the
claim area; and
traditional fauna (kangaroo) being cooked in one
of these recently used charcoal hearth features on
the claim area.
Veth documented that the claimants had full
knowledge of all the field sites visited and documented by him. The claimants had names for these sites
and knew of narratives connecting some of them
Producing a respondents report: the nature of vetting
I was initially contacted by the CSO in late 1997. At
this time they were seeking the services of a suitably
qualified expert witness to assist in the De Rose Hill
claim, and in particular wanted advice on the archaeological report to be produced by the claimants. At
this stage no fieldwork/reporting had been completed.
My initial response was one of aversion to being
drawn into an adversarial contest, particularly on the
side of a party testing native title. I was assured,
however, that the Federal Courts guidelines were
clear: that experts provide evidence to the court, and
that this is not adversarial in nature. On this basis my
involvement in the claim began.
Three visits were made to the De Rose Hill claim
area during the preparation of my response. The aims


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of these visits were to familiarise myself (and the

Crowns legal team) with the claim area, to form an
opinion about the archaeological evidence across the
claim area and to validate the recordings made by the
claimants archaeologist.
The first visit took place in November 1998, the
second in June 1999 and the third in August 2000. It
was originally envisaged that all fieldwork would
take place with the claimants being present. This would
have been desirable to both observe the claimants
associations with sites and to document the contemporary significance of the sites. It is certainly considered
current best practice to involve the traditional owners
of the land when doing archaeological fieldwork.
Before the first trip, it became clear that a visit
involving all the claimants was going to be extremely
difficult to organise. At this point the locations for all
40 claim sites had not been disclosed. It was decided
to make this initial visit primarily a reconnoitre of
the claim area. The pastoralist (second respondent)
showed us archaeological sites that he knew of
around the De Rose Hill Station. Members of the legal
team and the CSO accompanied me on this two-day
visit. Sites were photographed and brief notes taken.
We rarely stopped for more than 15 minutes at any
one location, so notes were cursory.
In May 1999, GPS readings for 37 sites in Veths
report were provided to the CSO. This excluded
information for three sites that the claimants did not
want us to visit because of their mythological
significance. These readings were mapped onto the
relevant 1:250k maps (the best available scale in that
part of Australia). No photographic material accompanying Veths field recordings was made available at
this time. The second archaeological field trip took
place over four days in June. Present this time were
members of the legal team and CSO and Ken Maddock
(anthropologist). The solicitor and anthropologist for
the second respondent were also present for some of
this time.
A hand-held GPS was used in the relocation of the
previously recorded sites. The GPS readings provided
by the claimants archaeologist were generated by a
standard non-differentially corrected GPS. Similarly,
the hand-held GPS used in this fieldwork was not
connected to a base station, and thus its accuracy was
also limited to around 100 metres. Some difficulties
were invariably encountered, particularly in relatively
featureless landscapes, in relocating the exact location
of the recorded sites (particularly without photographs for comparison). Certain site types (e.g. open

Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

artefact scatters) were particularly susceptible to these

locational difficulties, especially when not associated
with distinctive topographic features. Sites which
were relocated, and which were positively identifiable
by their nature and contents (e.g. rockshelters with
unique contents and/or recognisable rock-art), had
GPS readings of 200400 metres different from the
GPS readings provided. This was not due to inaccurate
information; rather, it was a product of the then
inadequacies of this technology.
Because of this difficulty, and because of the
limited time available, field efforts were concentrated
on sites and site complexes in readily identifiable
landscapes (particularly rockshelters or granite
monoliths/inselbergs, and so on). Because of the
relocation difficulties, no attempt was made to visit
groups of sites that comprised artefact scatters in
indistinct landscape contexts (e.g. dunefields). As
knowledgeable people did not take us to these sites,
in our efforts to relocate sites we often encountered
evidence that may not have been shown to and/or
recorded by Veth. There were occasional inconsistencies apparent between the earlier recording and
current observations, but these were only of minor
import. A number of the sites visited in 1998 were
found to be claimant sites, and were now identifiable
as such.
The third archaeological field trip took place over
three days in August 2000. Present were members of
the legal team and CSO, the legal team for the second
respondents, representatives of the Aboriginal Legal
Rights Movement (ALRM) and more than 12
claimants. Also present for much of the time was a
police escort from Marla Bore.
As well as the claimants being present, the
complete Veth report (with descriptions and photographs) was now available to assist in finding the
sites. The two main aims of this trip were to ascertain
that the correct locations had been visited for several
of the sites (where inconsistencies in descriptions led
us to believe these may not have been properly
found), and to establish for the second respondent the
exact locations of each of the field sites for the
purposes of a preservation order being sought by the
claimants to protect the sites.
I visited 32 of the field sites recorded by Veth over
the course of these three field visits (Table 1). A
number of the sites were visited on several occasions.
While all the sites recorded by Veth were not visited
by me (several were mythological/restricted ceremonial and excluded from discovery by me), those

seen are considered to be a representative sample of

the types of sites present across the claim area, and a
sufficient sample by which to judge the accuracy and
veracity of the overall recordings. The geographic
spread of the sites across the claim land, in terms of
landscapes within the claim area, was also adequately
covered. No doubt there are many hundreds more
such sites occurring across the land.
Occupation evidence
A number of these sites contained evidence of
Aboriginal stone tool production and use. Other sites
contained grinding patches or lithic material sources
associated with evidence for a range of stone toolmaking activities. The rockshelter sites generally had
associated open campsites, these stretching across the
landscape in eventually decreasing densities.
A range of stone tool types, such as described by
Veth (1998:19), were observed across these sites. The
sites varied in size, from sparse (1 artefact/100m2) to
extremely dense (e.g. >100 artefacts/m2). They also
varied in extensiveness (e.g. from isolated finds
within pastoral structures to extending over a number
of hectares). A number of localised features (e.g.
around the margins of small claypans) were seen. A
range of raw materials were observed as having been
used in the manufacture of these stone tool assemblages: silcrete (a wide variety of colours and qualities),
chalcedony (usually white), quartz, chert, quartzite
and sandstone. Silcrete and chalcedony dominated
most assemblages.
Given the arid environment, potable water was
no doubt a primary factor in determining site location
(Veth 1993, 1998). However, a number of quite
extensive (semi-permanent?) sites were also observed
in transit during the various field trips that had no
obvious association with an identifiable water source
(e.g. along the top of extensive perched dunes).
Pastoral and contact materials
There is a range of archaeological evidence that can
document activities that took place in the post-contact
era. The use of glass, pottery and metal (as replacements for stone) and the incorporation of pastoral
hardware (e.g. metal fencing wire and hinges) in wiltje
construction provide insights into the ways in which
Aboriginal people have negotiated their existence
with the advent of European settlers.

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Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

Table 1 Summary of site types inspected during fieldwork at De Rose Hill

Site type
Artefact scatter
Artefact scatter, grinding patches
Habitation structures
Quarry, reduction areas
Shelter with rock-art
Shelter with rock-art/deposit
Artefact scatter, hearth
Artefact scatter, ethnographic
Rockhole, artefact scatter, grinding patches
Artefact scatter, camping residues
Ethnographic, artefact scatter, habitation structure, burial pit
Old sheep yard
Quarry, reduction area, rockshelters
Rockhole, rock-art
Rockshelter with occupation deposit, quarry
Scarred mulga trees
Shelters with rock-art/deposit, open artefact scatter, quarry
Stockyard site
Stone arrangement, artefact scatters

The use of fencing wire in constructing shelters

would postdate 1932 (the date of first lease here,
granted to Thomas ODonoghue), and may well date
to much later when the large-scale fencing of the
property commenced. It is notable that early sheep
pens were constructed across the claim area using
mulga boughs and trees (not fencing wire). The use of
traditional shelters which incorporate pastoral hardware could therefore be inferentially dated to after
this phase of pastoralism, possibly to the introduction
of cattle. This certainly supports the claimants
recollections (Veth 1998) that the wiltje at one site were
used during Doug Fullers time. One of the sites was
reported to have been used by Peter De Roses family
in the early 1960s, at a time when a number of families
were working the adjacent stock-yards. The hearth
from which charcoal was retrieved returned a modern
date with bomb carbon (Wk-5701), substantiating
evidence for this sites use when claimed.
The depiction of post-contact motifs in rock-art
sites provides easily recognisable evidence for a change
in functioning graphic systems (e.g. Frederick 1997).


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Figure 1
Mulga tree with ovoid scar and another notch cut below it with a
metal axe. These scarred trees are in close proximity to other trees
that have been cut down to make fence strainers for the nearby

Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

At De Rose Hill there is evidence for a number of

post-contact sites: the presence of glass which appears
to have been flaked, the production of traditional
wooden artefacts using metal tools (scarred trees with
metal axe marks; see Figure 1), the use of fencing wire
in wiltje construction, and a man on a horse drawn in
a rock-art site.
Eight of the rockshelters (at five locations) and one
rock well contain rock-art. Most of this art consists of
paintings. Design congruence between the sites is
evident, with meanders, animal tracks and snakes
accounting for the majority of motifs. These are
depicted in red, yellow, white and black pigment
(Figure 2). In several of the sites, trails of macropod
tracks, apparently made with paired thumbprints, are
a design theme.

At one site, there are extremely faded red-painted

bird tracks. While these look much older, it is possible
that their location in full sun has resulted in this
condition (Cook et al. 1990). At one of the major art
complexes, the recent very small, yellow anthropomorphs are suggestive of a changing design vocabulary
(Frederick 1997). A larger sample of art sites is
required, however, before such a conclusion can be
reached. No stencils were recorded at any of the art
Petroglyphs were recorded in three shelters
(Figure 3). In two of these sites, pecked and deeply
patinated intaglio engravingscircles, bars and bird
and macropod trackswere recorded. Some of these
were covered in desert varnish. This material is
potentially dateable. These engravings are also
superimposed by more recent yellow-painted motifs.
In one of these shelters a panel of unpatinated,
battered macropod tracks with a fresh appearance

Figure 2
Paintings in red, yellow and white include sinuous meanders, trails of paired tracks and more complex designs

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Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

Figure 3
Panaramitee-style bird and macropod tracks and geometric
designs. Motifs on horizontal surface are covered with desert
varnish, while these on vertical panels are superimposed with
yellow-painted motifs.

At one rockshelter there is evidence for great

antiquity in rock-art production. This rockshelter has
deeply patinated, pecked circle and track engravings
which are coated in desert varnish. Desert varnish has
been dated on other Panaramitee engraving sites
to between 10 000 and 30 000 years ago (Dragovich
1986; Nobbs & Dorn 1988, 1993although see also
Krinsley et al. 1990; Watchman 1989). At this and
several other rock-art shelters there is evidence for a
number of episodes of art production.
Evidence of continuing rock-art production after
European contact is most clearly demonstrated by the
drawing/painting of a man with a gun, sitting on a
horse. This is done in thick (wet?) charcoal (potentially
dateable) with a drawn white outline (Figure 4). The
schema used for the horse suggests a lack of
familiarity with horses as faunathis example has a
stumpy tail and very short legs. The head size is
exaggerated. The human figure is in profile. Only the
head and one arm are shown, but the gun being held
is exaggerated: the man is shown shooting out and
down over the head of the horse. The motif is quite
faded and located high on one of the walls, close to
but not superimposed on dark red-painted tally marks.

were also observed. Interestingly (from a schematic

point of view), there is a trail of red-painted macropod
track motifs extending up the wall above this more
recent engraved panel. This provides further suggestion of the interrelatedness of design themes within
the site, potentially spanning considerable time
A limited range of motifs occurs across the claim
area. They comprise mostly bird and kangaroo tracks,
circles, bars, meanders and snakes. There are only a
small number of iconic designs, namely tracks
(McDonald 1993) and some small anthropomorphs.
Most of the motifs would generally be described as
geometric or non-figurative. This is entirely in
keeping with previous studies of desert art, although
proportions of different techniques do vary in
localised areas (Frederick 1999; Gunn 2000; McDonald
2005; Ross 2003). Interestingly, a number of motifs
occur in both painting and engraving techniques,
namely bird and roo tracks, circles and bars. This is
interesting because it would appear that the design
congruence spans some considerable timethe
engravings are probably quite old, while the
paintings are more likely to be relatively recent.
Similar observations have been made elsewhere
across the arid zone (Rosenfeld & Smith 2002).

Figure 4
Charcoal and white painting of a man with a gun, on a horse.
Note the nave schema for the horse (stumpy tail, short legs and
large head).


Australian Aboriginal Studies 2005/1

Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

Incised grooves
An extensive panel of incised grooves is located at one
of the major rock wells. When the limestone rock well
is full, they would be located just above the water line.
They appear in groups (like tally marks) but otherwise do not appear to form any recognisable motifs
(e.g. bird or kangaroo tracks: see Smith & Rosenfeld
1992). Several of them are positioned beneath mudwasp nests, and are thus potentially dateable (Roberts
et al. 2000).
Shelters with deposit
Of the five shelter locations visited which contained
surface evidence of occupation deposit, only one
seemed to have potential for stratified deposit. All of
the other shelters appeared to have a thin veneer of
deposit perched on bedrock.
Stone arrangements
The stone arrangement recorded by Veth was
inspected. This comprises a series of lines and mounds
of silcrete boulders on the northern flanks of a low
hill. Silcrete occurs naturally around three sides of this
hill, but extensive arranged lines (some dispersed) are
evident on this feature, as is an extensive stone artefact
scatter on the adjacent flats and claypan.
The use of natural stone outcrops as sources for
lithic artefact manufacture were observed at several
locations. Veths quarry sites include silcrete and
chalcedony sources. Several additional silcrete quarry
sites were identified across the land where there was
evidence for naturally occurring silcrete and initial
phases of artefact reduction. Low quantities of
finished tools were observed in these vicinities
(Hiscock & Mitchell 1993).
Conclusions reached
There is extensive archaeological evidence, in a range
of site types, across the De Rose Hill claim area. The
patterning inherent in this evidence provides conclusive evidence for the long-term occupation of the
claim area by Aboriginal people, prior to sovereignty.

This archaeological evidence (in itself) cannot

demonstrate associations between named individuals
and particular features. The fact that particular
claimants directed Veth to certain features that they
knew existed, however, was not challenged. The
nature of the archaeological evidence available would
not assist in clarifying a chronology of recent use by
the claimants around the claim area (i.e. in traditional
pursuits as opposed to fulfilling responsibilities
involved in their employment on the pastoral lease).
There is definitive archaeological evidence (e.g.
fencing wire in wiltje construction, the depiction of a
man on a horse in a rock-art site, the presence of glass
which appears to have been flaked, the production of
traditional wooden artefacts using metal tools) that
occupation of this landscape continued beyond
1836the date of white settlement (sovereignty being
asserted) in South Australia. By whom and for what
period of time these sites were in use cannot be
inferred purely from the archaeological record, either
as acknowledged in the Veth (1998) report or as
confirmed by my own observations. The fact that
claimants have specifically taken archaeologists to
these sites, however, and have located sub-surface
hearth features that they have memories of using or
being used and which having been radiocarbon dated
has verified as being indistinguishable from modern,
is strong evidence for the claimants having a
contemporary connection to particular locations and
with archaeological evidence.
The use of fencing wire in wiltje construction
would likely postdate 1932 (the date of first lease
here). The claimants indicate that this particular site
was used in Doug Fullers time. This would suggest
this sites usage took place sometime between
194245 and 1977.
As discussed above, the archaeological evidence
often extended for some considerable distance away
from the designated sites. Some of the sites recorded
were part of larger site complexes not documented
and some significant archaeological features within
sites similarly are not noted in Veth (1998). This is not
to say that the claimants did not know of this
additional evidence: it is more likely that the foci/
specific locations described in the Veth report are
nodes within cultural palimpsests which have
contemporary significance. Given the time and
logistical constraints, genuine site boundaries could
not be explored. Given the focus and nature of the
evidence collection, the recording exercise was often
necessarily truncated.

Australian Aboriginal Studies 2005/1


Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

Arid zone rock-art

Working on this native title claim I was particularly
interested in how an archaeological appraisal of rockart might assist in the process of a native title
determination. Art theory indicates that rock-art has
the potential to demonstrate local group identifying
behaviour (McDonald 1994; Wiessner 1990; Wobst
1977). A number of rock-art researchers have now
investigated this type of question in (particularly)
Central Australia, though at the time that this claim
was being documented archaeologically this
information was relatively new (Frederick 1997, 1999,
2000; Galt-Smith 1997; Gunn 1996; McDonald 2000a,
2005; McDonald & Veth 2005; Rosenfeld & Smith
2002; Ross 2003; Veth & McDonald 2004).
At the time of the claim, I was particularly
interested in Galt-Smiths work which had investigated
the patterning evident in art sites and tied this to
ethnographically documented social groups. Frederick
(1997, 1999) had also demonstrated the interconnectedness of art (or graphic) systems in this arid
environment due to the widely ramified social
networks. Galt-Smiths (1997) work showed distinct
patterning in the pigment rock-art assemblages,
which correlated well with the documented totemic
clan-based social system. This was in contrast
with the patterning shown by pecked engraving
(petroglyph) sites, which are homogenous over vast
areas of arid Australia and which, it has been argued
(e.g. C. Smith 1989), demonstrate broad-scaled group
cohesion over vast areas of the arid zone.
The multivalency of arts role in arid zone society
is recognised, being both secular/casual and
sacred/ceremonial (Gunn 2000). The graphic systems
of the Western Desert were an important tool for
promoting and controlling the exchange of information, functioning at a multitude of levels. This both
identified and integrated groups as well as demarcating social boundaries (Frederick 2000; see also GaltSmith 1997; Lewis 1988; McDonald 1994, 1999).
The significance of Galt-Smiths research was
the fact that the pictographsor pigment art
assemblageswere found to be sensitive to ethnographically documented social systems in the arid
zone. This is the same pattern as has been found in
other art analyses, in different environments (e.g. the
more fertile coastal region of Sydney: McDonald
1994). The pictographic art would appear to be a
relatively sensitive indicator at the local group level.
This finding has obvious implications for native title


Australian Aboriginal Studies 2005/1

where particular groups are claiming particular

country (McDonald 2000a). This conclusion has
subsequently been reached in a number of style
provinces in the central and western deserts
(McDonald 2005; McDonald & Veth 2005; Rosenfeld
2002; Rosenfeld & Smith 2002; Ross 2003, 2005).
Fredericks (1997) work also explored rock-art in
the processes of change and continuity brought about
by culture contact, specifically the arrival of
Europeans in Central Australia. In the area of her
analysisWatarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park
contact art was characterised by the presence of dry
charcoal drawings (intricately structured nonfigurative designs) and figurative representations of
horses, cattle and clothed anthropomorphs. The
contact assemblage is further characterised by a
diversity of graphic designs, most of which are
without precedent in the graphic vocabulary of the
pre-contact tradition (Frederick 2000:9). She also
found a shift in the distribution pattern of contact art
sites, with a contraction in art locations, each of these
showing a proliferation of art of a different design
vocabulary. Frederick argues for a changing social
context to the production of art during the contact
period, as a result of significant changes in resource
use, residence patterns, networks of exchange, social
structures and graphic systems. This work has
obvious relevance to studying art evidence in native
title claims. At De Rose Hill there is an interesting
example of this phenomenon. There is a concrete
water tank at Reicks Bore on De Rose Hill Station that
bears a proliferation of artistic doodles and graffiti,
much of which was done by (named) stockmen on the
station (the pastoralist, 1998, pers. comm.). This art
clearly includes pastoralist images (a changed graphic
structure) and is differently located from the precontact rock-arton a concrete water tank opposed to
a rockshelter wall.
This potential evidentiary opportunity existed
and was identified at the time of the claim. The
absence of substantive rock-art research in the De
Rose Hill area and broader region (e.g. the Pitjantjatjara
Lands) meant that determining the localised characteristics of the art or its placement in the broader
Western Desert regional art style was not possible.
Clear differences in technique, motif choice and
colour use can be seen on even a cursory inspection of
the De Rose Hill material (see Figures 24), in contrast
with documented assemblages from elsewhere
around the arid zone (e.g. Frederick 1997; Galt-Smith
1997; Gunn 1996; McDonald & Veth 2005; Nobbs 1982;

Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald

Smith & Rosenfeld 1992). There has, at this stage,

however, been no research upon which to base
conclusions about the De Rose Hill art. The potential
of this type of archaeological evidence to be ethnically
sensitive is demonstrable. Unfortunately, little more
can be said about the art on De Rose Hill, other than:
Art has been produced in the claimed area for a
very long period of time (maybe tens of thousands
of years).
The older (pecked and patinated) engraved art is
consistent with art found across vast areas of the
arid zone.
The style of the more recent art on the claimed
land is internally consistent, indicating a strong
cohesion in the graphic system operating across
the sites observed.
Several sites show changes in design themes over
time, while others show multiple artistic episodes
with very similar stylistic characteristics.
There is evidence for art being produced up to
and possibly beyond contact with Europeans.
There is not good evidence for the development of
a new graphic systemother than the occurrence
of identifiable contact motifsduring the early
contact period (cf. Frederick 1997 at Watarrka,
west of Alice Springs).3

Discussion and conclusions

No systematic fieldwork was completed prior to this
claim, and both sides spent less than ten days each
on the land. Despite this, archaeological evidence was
collected documenting a range of habitation evidence.
Long-term occupation was in evidence based on the
presence of identified temporal markers. And the
presence of settler materials indicated the continuity
of certain practices after the declaration of sovereignty.
There was no excavated archaeological material
from the claim area to provide scientific evidence as to
the length of time that these lands have been occupied
by Aboriginal people. Based on the regional literature,
it is likely that Aboriginal people have lived here for
at least 20 000 years.
There is evidence, from elements in the archaeological record (e.g. fencing wire in wiltje construction,
the use of metal tools to produce traditional wooden
artefacts, flaked glass, and the depiction of a man
on a horse in a rock-art site), that occupation of this
landscape continued beyond 1836, the date of

sovereignty being asserted in South Australia.

However, by whom and for exactly what period of
time these sites were in use cannot be inferred from
the archaeological record alone, hence the need to link
claimant evidence where this is reliable and possible.
The drawing of a man on a horse could date to as
early as 1873, the first documented record of white
people in the claim area. Certainly the schema used in
drawing the horse (its tail and the proportions of its
legs) suggests an early contact experience (see Clegg
While the claim occurred within the Western
Desert cultural bloc, a region that is generally well
understood archaeologically and anthropologically, it
occurred with a complete absence of local contextual
research. Information that may have assisted in
demonstrating the nature of the connection evidence
(e.g. temporal change and continuities) were unable
to be addressed because of this absence. In particular,
broader-scaled rock-art research would have allowed
quite useful statements about local group identifying
behaviour in the De Rose rock-art sites.
Native title evidence requires particular types of
archaeological data to be collected. Using claimants/
traditional owners to identify sites with contemporary significance and resonance to the claim allows
for a rapid documentation of archaeological sites that
can show connection and continuities of practice.
Archaeologists engaged in this work, however, still
need to employ broader regional models/data and to
seek the evidence of older sites and site types which
can contextualise that more recent evidence. As with
other types of expert witness evidence, expertise is
based on the evidence to hand. Desktop studies alone
are only going to be appropriate in areas that have
been extensively studied and previously researched.
The accuracy and validity of that evidence will
influence the degree of primary data collection that is
needed to ensure the appropriate types of archaeological evidence are available and upon which an
expert opinion can be formulated. Conventional
approaches need to be accommodated within the
short-term, rapid collection period that is necessitated
by the time and financial constraints introduced by
the legal process. This will ensure that the archaeological data collected are appropriately contextualised.
It will also ensure ongoing relevance and continued
engagement between native title archaeology and
mainstream archaeological discourse.

Australian Aboriginal Studies 2005/1


Archaeological evidence in the De Rose Hill native title claimMcDonald


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Jo McDonald is a cultural heritage management

consultant working mainly in the Sydney Basin. The
Sydney regional rock-art corpus was the focus of her
doctoral research. She has also written management
and conservation plans on this rock-art. Her rock-art
analysis was contextualised by the excavation of a
number of decorated rockshelter sites and interpretation of these assemblages was based on information
exchange theory. Her current rock-art research focus
is in the Western Desert in the Australian arid
zone. She has recently (with her erstwhile colleague
PMV) undertaken an assessment of the Dampier
Archipelagos scientific value for a national estate
The excavation and strategic management of open
Aboriginal campsites in western Sydney has been a
research and management focus over the last decade.
This has involved numerous lengthy excavation
programs involving many archaeologists and members
of the Aboriginal community. These excavations have
not only increased our understanding of pre-contact
settlement on the Cumberland Plain but have assisted
in the development of sampling methodologies for
open area excavations. McDonalds native title work
has included the De Rose Hill native title claim in
Central Australia and recording rock-art for the Martu
native title claim in Western Australia.