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Title: Evaluating social complexity in pre-European Aboriginal societies: a South East Queensland case study
Contributor(s): Wright, Helen (author); Grave, Peter  (supervisor)orcid ; Brown, Trevor C (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2017
Copyright Date: 2016
Open Access: No
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Abstract: Early historical accounts of inter-group social networks operating between Aboriginal groups in South East Queensland and northern New South Wales, document large gatherings at which elaborate ceremonies and exchange took place. Interpretations of archaeological evidence at sites, which researchers have associated with these ceremonial gatherings, have fuelled arguments that they provided the impetus for increased social complexity during the late Holocene, as evidenced by shifts in land use patterns as well as subsistence and cultural practices. Within these highly complex economic and social alliances, described by early European settlers up until the early 20th century, ground-edged stone hatchets were reported to be one of the most prized items of exchange. This study used non-destructive, portable XRay fluorescence to elementally characterise a sample of basalt ground-edged hatchets from Southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales, as well as a potential range of basalt sources, to assess the complexity of exchange represented. In addition to museum collections, this provenancing study used a community archaeology approach to access additional ground-edged hatchets, curated by rural landholders in South East Queensland. The aim of this research project was to assess two independent but related issues. The first was a critical review of interpretations of the archaeological evidence in South East Queensland from the late Holocene that characterise hunter-gatherers societies in that region as being socially complex. In this review, I found the concept of social complexity, when used in the context of pre-contact Aboriginal communities, to be highly problematic. Not only has the definition of social complexity been vague but interpretations of the evidence to support those arguments ambiguous. Perhaps the most significant omission has been adequate interrogation of the archaeological record to understand the triggers for such an apparent significant social change in pre-contact Australia. The second was a methodological evaluation of the potential of non-destructive geochemical characterisation (portable X-ray fluorescence - pXRF) for investigating the possible geological range represented by this corpus. This pXRF study was unable to match hatchets with geographically specific source locations, due primarily to widespread basalt formations throughout the region and, as a consequence, redundancy in characterisation of sources. So while it was not possible to examine the level of social complexity of inter-group activity, the results do lend weight to arguments of extensive exchange. The community archaeology aspect of this project involved people from non-Indigenous backgrounds but who had collected Aboriginal artefacts from their rural properties. What emerged was a window onto a previously untapped source of information; access to artefacts which had not recorded and first-hand accounts of where they had been found.
Publication Type: Thesis Masters Research
Field of Research (FoR): 210101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology
210102 Archaeological Science
040201 Exploration Geochemistry
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO): 950503 Understanding Australias Past
970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology
950302 Conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage
Rights Statement: Copyright 2016 - Helen Wright
Open Access Embargo: 2020-10-28
HERDC Category Description: T1 Thesis - Masters Degree by Research
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Appears in Collections:School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Thesis Masters Research

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