Fish traps and stone houses: New archaeological insights into Gunditjmara use of the Budj Bim lava flow of southwest Victoria over the past 7000 years
Ian McNiven, 10 May 2017
[CHAIR & INTRODUCTIONS: LINDY ALLEN]
Ian McNiven is Professor of indigenous Archaeology in the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre at Monash University. Ian's also an Honorary Associate of Museum Victoria. And actually, this week we've had the closing date of the first series of seed funding applications for a new research initiative with Monash University called the Robert Blackwood Funding Research Programme.
So Ian does specialise in coastal Archaeology, indigenous Australian and coastal Archaeology. But in fact, this lecture, as I'm sure you all are well aware, is on an inland site in Victoria, here in the Western District. So Ian, I know, doesn't need much of an introduction. I know many people know him and know his work. So I'll just turn it over to Ian. Thank you.
Thank you, Lindy. Yes, I'd also like to pay my respects to the elders of the Eastern Kulin Nation. And also I really want to say a big thank you to the Gunditjmara community, who has been hosting our archaeological research at Monash University or through Monash University for well over 10 years. So they've been unbelievably generous and forthcoming and have been great research partners. And that's what we're going to be doing today is even though this is talk by myself, it is very much a result of joint work, partnership, community-based work, with Gunditjmara community.
Now, some of you may have seen, earlier this year, I had I piece in the conversation which was giving a little bit of background information to the recent proposal to have the Budj Bim cultural landscape in Western Victoria, on Gunditjmara country, put up for World Heritage nomination. And sure enough, in January, our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, made the announcement that Budj Bim has been put forward by the Australian government on our World Heritage tentative list.
So I was asked to give a little background information by the people in the conversation, which I did. Had a very good response from people in terms of the number of people that looked at it and some of the really interesting comments we got, basically all very positive, which is always nice. But a lot of people also said is there any way we can get some more information on this. So this is a great opportunity to do that.
So basically what I'm going to do is flesh out that piece in the conversation and give you much more detail on the sort of results that we've been getting from our joint research down in Western Victoria. Essentially it's like how do we know what we know? What are the techniques of Archaeology which allow us to make these rather extraordinary insights into the history of the Gunditjmara people.
So I've broken the talk up into three sections. so the first bit will give you a little bit of a historical backdrop to the Gunditjmara Nation. So it's essentially a contact history, and that'll become obvious why I'm doing that, because one of the sites we're going to be talking about is from probably around the mid to late 19th century. So if you've got that little bit of background, you'll appreciate a little bit more the significance of what we found there.
We'll talk a little bit about the World Heritage nomination, which of course, is one of the great things that's coming out of this research. And then we'll give you a little bit of a backdrop before we get into the nitty-gritty of the couple of sites that I'm going to be talking about. Some of the background of archaeological work that's been done since really the 1970s in the Western part of Victoria, to give it a little bit of a broader context to what we're going to be talking about.
And then for the third part, then we'll zoom in on two of the case sites that we've looking at with the Gunditjmara community and our students here at Monash Uni for a number of years. I'll show you those sites and how we've been doing our work and what we've found.
So just in case you are not quite sure where we are, well, X marks the spot where you are now. And let's go out to the southwestern part of Victoria to the lands of the Gunditjmara Nation, Gunditjmara country. So this is the AIATSIS tribal linguistic boundary map. So obviously, we're going to Gunditjmara, one of many nations, communities in southeastern Australia.
And you can see in the top left corner there, the Institute uses this map created by the well-known anthropologist, Nick Peterson, sort of trying to subdivide Australia into a series of different culture areas. A lot of it's based on environmental zones, so you certainly have like the river ring area, pretty much focused around the Murray River and various tributaries.
You've got the desert cultures. And obviously, we're looking at that southeastern part of the continent that is a very rich area. So Australia is a great continent of diversity. So every area of Australia, every travel group, every linguistic group, every nation has its own history. And when you've got nearly 300 different language groups, we're talking about this country, and extending back what? 50, maybe 60 thousand years, I think that's about to be pushed back a little bit more in an upcoming article in Nature, we're talking about a lot of history. So but we're going to focus in on just one little area.
All right. In terms of the social organisation, obviously, the first thing is Gunditjmara is a thriving community today and they were in the past, when Europeans first went out to this part of the world, pretty much in the early part of the 19th century. You've got the one attempt to put a boundary on the Gunditjmara there. This is worked done by Harry Lourandos, a famous Australian archaeologist.
And one of the things that Harry was trying to do was populate the landscape with different clan groups for our part of the world, based on 19th century records. Each of those dots is basically a different sort of clan group, but there's actually many more dots that should be on that map.
And in fact, just for the Gunditjmara area there, Ian Clark, a historian who's done a lot of work looking at 19th century records, Gunditjmara and various other groups of Western Victoria, has actually come up with 59 different clans. So Gunditjmara country is made up of all different sort of clan groups. So it's a highly populated area. And in many sort of ways, the population density of this part of the world is one of the highest in Australia. And there's some reason for that, which we'll go into soon.
All right. So Gunditjmara being there for tens of thousands of years and then things change with the coming of Europeans. And things really take off in the 1820s and 1830s with the European whalers coming in. And of course the two famous names here, William Dutton and Edward Henty, things start really going pear-shaped when Henty is on the scene. And of course we have the infamous Convincing Ground massacre soon after Henty's men turn up there, which is still quite a scar on the landscape of Gunditjmara history and everybody's history. Next slide.
So then a lot of squatters start coming in and setting up runs in the 1840s, and that's when things really start going downhill. And understandably, the Gunditjmara didn't really take too kindly to other people coming in and basically taking over their land, and they put up a violent resistance to that. And it's one of the most well-known, well-documented examples of violent resistance by Aboriginal Australians.
To the point that, in fact, Europeans coined it the Eumerella War. This is not an Aboriginal term, though the Aboriginal people use it. But Europeans said the aggressive resistance, violent resistance by the Gunditjmara was of the scale that they actually said we are in a state of war with the Gunditjmara people. That's the people at the time calling it that, and it was referred to as the Eumerella War. So it's on for young and old, basically.
And this is what you have. You've got the clan map there. You could put many more black dots there. And then by the 1840s, you have this. This is all the squatting runs in Western Victoria. Right? So that is an invasion of your traditional lands. And like I say, the Gunditjmara put up a nom de resistance to that.
And a number of ways of doing that. There's just straight out fighting. Spears against guns. But a much more effective way was guerrilla warfare, which really confounded the early squatters. Basically that's going in and either burning paddocks, getting rid of the grass on which sheep were grazing, or, in fact, kill sheep. And I mean kill hundreds and hundreds of sheep. Wipe out entire flocks overnight. And that's really where they had a lot of impact.
But then you've got the Native Police coming in. There's a lot more Europeans coming in. And things didn't really go too well. In the end, one of the strategies to keep it going for the Gunditjmara, and this is where we start getting into the Budj Bim landscape, which is a volcanic landscape through the eruption of Budj Bim, or a European term, Mount Eccles, probably erupted around 30,000 years ago. So it's quite a recent volcanic landscape. It's very rugged. If you've been down there, it's that classic, stony rise country.
It's one of the last areas that the squatters got into because they couldn't do a lot with it. It's not very good for horses. But this is a great place for the Gunditjmara and the resistance fighters to hang out. They could go back into the stony rises and live there and then go out doing these raids.
So the stony rises, this volcanic landscape, becomes absolutely central to the survival of the Gunditjmara in the middle of the 19th century. And while you think about the Archaeology of that, I'll show you a site from this period soon. So that's the Budj Bim landscape, culture landscape, as we know it today.
People on the stony rises, but there are also Aboriginal people living around settlements such as Portland, trying to make a living there as best they can under a whole new sort of regime that's going on. So despite what's happening to them, to their lands, et cetera, they still are surviving. They're still managing to carry out their traditional ways in many ways, but they're also adapting and changing to their new circumstances.
Now, because of what is going on, a lot of Europeans, who knew damn well what was happening and didn't like what was going on, in fact, it was quite sobering reading to go through a lot of the newspapers. There was a lot of Europeans that said, this is terrible, what's happening. So we have this picture that it's like all Europeans were in on this violence against Aboriginal people. There's also a lot of Europeans that were actually disgusted by it and said the government needs to do something about it.
A lot of their voices didn't go very far, but the government did think that it would be worthwhile to set up the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate to help look after Aboriginal people and protect-- well, at least notionally, anyway, protect their interests. And so George Augustus Robinson is employed as the Chief Protector of Aborigines. He made his name down in Tasmania working with Truganini, et cetera.
So he comes over to live in Port Phillip, and he does this extraordinary visit in 1841. He goes out to the Western part of Victoria. He thinks, OK. If I'm meant to be looking after Aboriginal people, I'd better actually go out there and meet some people and see what they're on about.
So he spends a number of months in 1941 cruising around the Western District and keeps a very day called diary. Does all sorts of interesting drawings. So this actually is a gold mine of ethnographic information on Gunditjmara. We are blessed by having George Augustus Robinson's records in there in the State Library of New South Wales. The originals.
One of the things he really brings out is that not only are there lots of different clan groups out there, he gives them names. He tries to write this down as best he can in his diaries, but he also documents the extraordinary eeling practises of the Gunditjmara and neighbours in the Western part of Victoria. And he notes that it's on a small scale, some of the eeling, but it's also on a very large scale.
Now, it's not really the Gunditjmara, but certainly to the north of the Gunditjmara, he documents one area there, just off to the eastern side of the Grampians or Gariwerd, where he says there's at least six hectares that's been dug up by Aboriginal people to create kilometres of channel to extend the habitat of the eels. So there's actually more eels, in a sense, or more growing conditions for eels, and also so the eels can be quite easily harvested at particular times of the year.
And really, this is our first insights into the aquaculture and the eel farming by the Gunditjmara-- I'm sorry. By the Western Victorian Aboriginal people. But it sort of does require that information, and it's really only in the last 50 years that we've been getting back into it, particularly through the work of archaeological research.
So what did Augustus Robinson see? So here's a couple of examples here, sort of down in the southwest. So we're talking about traps set up across creeks or across rivers, brush and stone weirs.
They have quite elaborate structures. Most of them have got like a hole through it that you put these very beautifully made, woven baskets that get put through there that captures the eels. And you've got some guys here that are pulling the baskets out. They pull the eels out, and then they thread them on these sticks off to the side, there.
So these are quite quick sort of sketches that George Augustus Robinson is doing in his diary as he quickly moves around. So both small scale and large scale. So that's in the 1840s. He's trying to do this at the time that the Gunditjmara are putting up this sort of armed resistance. He's documenting all sorts of things.
Then essentially the Gunditjmara realise that this is not the way to go, because it is the comeback by Europeans is so strong. And then they move into a different sort of period, a different sort of strategy for survival. And that's when you move into the 1850s and 1860s, where very much its Aboriginal people down in that part of Victoria trying to continue their culture, but in a sense, living on the fringes of European society.
And sometimes that's continuing to live on the outskirts of towns, but also living on properties. And sometimes they're working on those properties. Sometimes they're not. Some of the property owners were reasonably happy for Aboriginal people just to live there. But it's a different sort of way now of continuing your world. So you have to change with the times, and I guess that that's what people do.
So here's a very interesting example of that time period. You've got Sanford Station here, just to the north of Gunditjmara country. But it's a painting of the property, but you can see, they've got the European structures, but they've also got an Aboriginal house there with Aboriginal people, and that's the sort of thing that was happening. So this is in the post-war period.
And obviously, when I talk about cultural continuity, it's not just living off the land from different plants and animals, et cetera. There's also ceremonies, et cetera, that are continuing in their complexity. So here we have from 1859. So in that post-war period. And here's Gunditjmara men here, well and truly dressed for a ceremony. So life goes on as best you can.
And then things were sort of-- I mean, people were doing their best, but the government realised they really should do a little bit more. So in 1867, they set up the Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission, which is now in the ownership of the Gunditjmara community. It is very much one of the most important cultural sites of the Gunditjmara community. There's some good aspects to it, some good memories there, but there's also some sad memories there as well. So it's a place of mixed feelings, but the thing everybody agrees on, it is a fundamentally important place to the Gunditjmara community, and they own and manage that property.
And things continue on. So we go through the 19th century, going through the 20th century, et cetera. And you come to today. And like I say, the Gunditjmara community is alive and well and thriving. Eeling is thriving. People still catching eels, eating eels, smoking eels. Slightly different sort of nets, but the same sort of strategy of going into these waterways. You have to know the life cycle of the eels. You have to know their movements with different water levels, et cetera, and when they flow at different seasons, et cetera.
So that's a male activity. In terms of women's activities, the basket weaving the Gunditjmara were famous for in the 19th century is still alive and well. So particularly people such as Aunty Eileen Alberts there, who are expert weavers, still passing that tradition on to younger generations of Gunditjmara women. So in fact, the museum's got some wonderful examples of old and new weaving.
2007, we have a great moment with the recognition of native title in various parts of Gunditjmara country. Not all of their area, but certainly many different parts. So that was a big day for the Gunditjmara community. So they have that legal recognition of the native title rights.
And then really we start moving into the last decade or so with the big thing as being to try and get World Heritage recognition for the Budj Bim cultural landscape. And here you see three senior members of Gunditjmara community, so Darryl, Dennis, and Denise. They're trying to work out exactly how this World Heritage area is going to be set up, particularly in terms of the boundaries, but also we're trying to work our, through a series of workshops, what are going to be the different sort of criteria and the reasons for putting this place forward for World Heritage nomination?
Because once you start playing that game, it's a big game. And you just can't make outlandish claims, because the Australian government is very conservative in what it does, in terms of the submission. They want to make sure that it is absolutely watertight. That the case is strong. Because it will be put out for international peer review. So you can't bullshit your way through this. This has to be done in a very formalised way. And that's what we're all working on at the moment.
There's a lot of different people, like state government, federal governments, et cetera, working with the Gunditjmara community. And it's also basically one of the First World Heritage areas in Australia to be put forward by an indigenous community. So from that point of view, it's also historically significant.
And then of course, we've all been working on this for years, waiting, waiting, waiting for Canberra to do something. And eventually, our prime minister, Malcolm Turnbill, in January this year, makes the announcement. He actually goes down to the fish trap I'm about to talk to you about. They've got Daniel Andrews there, I think, as well. And here you've got Tyson Lovett-Murray, a Gunditjmara fellow, who's actually telling our prime minister about the importance of this particular site. And it's when Malcolm Turnbull actually makes the announcement that Australia's now put this forward, put Budj Bim forward on Australia's World Heritage tentative list. So that was a great moment.
So now it's up to Australia to put together all the detailed documentation, which will then be submitted to UNESCO for critical evaluation. So we've still got a long way to go, but this is a great move forward, here. So if you want to know more about Gunditjmara and the sort of things that I've been talking about, and in fact, in a lot more detail about the history, et cetera, I highly recommend this book that you can buy at the museum bookshop here, shop.
So this was written, co-authored with the Gunditjmara community. So it's very much their history. They are happy for this sort of side of their history to come out. So you know that it's been fully endorsed, and, in fact, co-written by them. So I highly recommend that book. It's a great read.
All right. Let's start moving into the Archaeology. So archaeological research in Western Victoria has been taking place, at least on a serious level, since basically the 1970s. That's when things really start kicking in. And very quickly, we start-- archaeologists love arguing amongst themselves.
They've always got these different theories. And some archaeologists, basically, they like emphasising more the environmental side of trying to explain long-term change. So changes you might get and the amount of activity in the landscape. How many people are there. How many sites are there. It's got to do with long-term environmental change, so people adapting to new conditions in the environment.
Other archaeologists go, look, that is important, but you also must consider the social dimensions as well. Every society has its own internal historical changes and developments, et cetera, and that we need to look at that as well. So Western Victoria became almost like a battleground for this debate in Australian Archaeology. And you've got the social side, led by Harry Lourandos and the environmental side led by Caroline Bird and David Frankel, who has just recently retired from Latrobe.
Now here's a map that both sides agree on, because they've both used it in their publication. This is a number of different psychological sorts through types. So on the bottom axis there, it goes back thousands of years. So we go from zero back to 13,000 years ago. And up the vertical axis there, we've got numbers of sites.
So we've only got three sites there. So shell middens, like on the coast, where we've got different pipi shells, et cetera, eroding out. Shoulders. That's like caves sites, rock shoulder sites that have been excavated. And then the green there is mound sites, which can be, say, from-- say, here to the wall in diameter, around 10 metres in diameter.
A high one would be a metre, but probably more of them these days around half a metre. Especially with camping places. A lot of oven activity. A lot on them are jam-packed full of charcoal, et cetera. So if you look what's happening there, interestingly, when you do the work in West Victoria, all the oven mounds only go back to about 2 and 1/2 thousand years ago. So it's quite a recent development.
Rock shoulder sites, well, that's where we get the earliest evidence, going back nearly 13,000 years ago. And then you've got the shell middens. They're layered too. They've got a bit of antiquity to them. But basically, like the amount of material in the rock shoulder sites, and if you combine the mound sites, there's a lot more activity in the past 3,000 to 4,000 years, and that's been an enduring question for the past pretty much 40 years in Australian Archaeology.
And this is not just a question for Western Victoria. This is a question for all of Australia. Basically you do the same sort of graph for every area of Australia where archaeologists have worked, you get basically the same sort of pattern. Why do most sites date to the last few thousand years? Is it preservation? In some cases, that's right, but in many cases, it's not.
It does seem like there really is a genuine-- there's more material, more sites, more activity happening in the past few thousand years in Australia. What is going on? And one of the key places to try and understand that has been Western Victoria.
The thing that they don't have on this graph is fish traps, which is what the area is famous for, and also stone houses, which is what the area is famous for. So they haven't featured in this argument. So I'll give you some reasons for that in a second. But now we can start populating this graph with some ideas, particularly with the fish traps, and that's what I want to tell you about today or tonight.
So let's have a look at the fish trap work that's been done. So like I said, things pretty much kick off in the 1970s. This is really with the work of Peter Coutts. And this comes out of the establishment the Victorian government sets up, the Victorian Archaeological Survey, which came through legislation to protect Aboriginal ecological heritage in the state of Victoria. You need a government office to go with that, to manage that new piece of legislation. And Peter Coutts headed up that new organisation.
And basically, Peter Coutts had a motorised trail. He just went around and dug up many, many places and greatly expanded our understanding of the Archaeology of Aboriginal Victoria. And one of the key places he thought it would be interesting to go and do some work was, in fact, around the Budj Bim landscape, and particularly Lake Condah. It became quite a focus for work.
And when he goes there, he knew that the Gunditjmara community had been talking about certain fish traps, et cetera, that were down there that they still do catch eels, et cetera. But when Peter Coutts went down there to look at the Archaeology over on this volcanic landscape, he couldn't believe the scale of it.
Because it's a volcanic landscape, most of the traps are made out of stone, blocks of volcanic rock. So basically, every fish trap that has ever been made on that landscape is still potentially there, because it's rock, and there hasn't been much European disturbance of the landscape. And there are hundreds of them out there.
So he did a lot of documentation of them. And many of them actually still work. In fact, you can still catch eels there. Like, here's one that they drew. All right? So it's a channel that's been excavated.
And a lot about catching eels is also about moving water around. You move the water, you move the eels. Right? So you manage the water. A lot of it's about creating new channels to feed water from one area of the lake into, say, a depression, like a holding pond for the eels. But sometimes it's a couple hundred metres to get from where the water is and the eels to that depression. How do you get the eels there? Dig a channel.
And here's one channel, here. It's 180 metres long. You can see where the rocks have been dug out and piled up on the side. So when you get a lot of rain, the water now goes through there and fills up that depression, and the eels go in there as well. So they spent a lot of time. Every rock was drawn in. So suddenly we start getting not only these new insights into eel fishing, but also of the scale of Aboriginal engineering that's down there.
The next big insight comes with the work of Heather Builth, who did her PhD not so much around Lake Condah, but the rest of the volcanic lava flow along Darlot Creek, coming down towards the coast. And what Heather found was that even though you can't really see how the water floods the lava flow today because in the late 19th century, Europeans drained Lake Condah, and a lot of the water that traditionally would go into Darlot Creek no longer goes into Darlot Creek anymore. And it was drained, basically, to create extra pastoral land, both around Lake Condah, but also further up in Condah Swamp.
I mean, it worked. There's more land available for agriculture. But good news. It's OK if you're a cow, all right? It's not good news if you're an eel or a member of the Gunditjmara community. So a lot of their traps no longer work. They're high and dry. Water no longer goes through them.
So how do you work out how these traps worked? So Heather had this great idea and said, OK, why don't I go out there and do three-dimensional mapping of the landscape, and I'll put it into a GIS, a computer, and then tell the computer, start filling up the three-dimensional landscape with water. So she puts in all these little rock walls, that once you-- you walk around the long grass, and you see a bit of a rock wall there, and a bit of a rock wall over there, and a bit over there, and you go, I have no idea what's going on.
But map it in great detail, put the water in it, suddenly you realise, at certain water levels, all those funny little rock walls all match up. And it's for holding the water in. So basically what Heather worked out was during times of flood, the water comes into these depressions, but then traditionally, under natural conditions, the water would then run out again when the water level drops, and it takes all the eels out.
What the Gunditjmara wanted to do was hold the water back, so you hold the eels back in these holding ponds. And that's what she worked out, that what the Gunditjmara were doing was building all these little walls to hold the water back, so there's actually these permanent ponds holding eels, basically, for the entire year. And that was a great insight.
So what she actually says, that the Gunditjmara, for the best term you can come up with is aquaculture. Right? They are artificially, dramatically increasing the habitat of these eels, to hold these eels, so they are available all year long. Not just seasonally, but for the entire year. And in fact, Heather coins this term aquaculture.
The big question we don't have from Heather's work and also we don't have from Peter Coutts' work is how old are these sites. That's what archaeologists, one of the key things we do. How old are things. Right? So it was something that was missing. And basically, the feeling was how do you date a stone wall? You can't date the rock, it tells you how old the lava is. That's no use. How old is the wall? People say, nobody really knows how to do that. OK. We'll come back to that.
Now let's have a look at the stone houses, the other sort of famous site type that you get down in Western Victoria on the stony rises. So there's many places they walk through the forest there, and you'll see these lovely little stone, C-shaped structures, usually only three, four courses high. Maybe half a metre high. Three metres, maybe, in diameter. They're small house structures, or the base of them.
So this is probably what they looked like, based on 19th century historical accounts and just from what we know from Archaeology, that the stone walls you're seeing is like a foundation. And it's really to hold up the sticks that make the structure of the house because it's a bit hard to put a stake into the ground when it's solid rock on a lava flow. So what do you do? Build some stones up around the stakes and then make the superstructure, then you can put on different sort of plant matter, sometimes clay, et cetera, to make quite a solid roof. And this is the sort of thing we're probably talking about.
This is a reconstruction we did for the First Footprints documentary from a couple of years ago. And if you haven't seen it, I highly recommended it. It's an extraordinary piece of work on the Archaeology of Australia. But episode four is the one to watch, because it's on Western Victoria. There are some good archaeologists in that episode, too.
So now what the other sort of interesting thing that Peter Coutts, besides recording these stone house sites, notices that in some paddocks, you get dozens and dozens of them. So the question is, is this like the remains of a village? Aboriginal people aren't meant to live in big villages. But some of these paddocks have dozens and dozens of these structures. Are we talking about like a village site?
Now, some other archaeologists came back and said, yeah, look, there's a lot in these paddocks. You can still see them there. But were they all occupied at the same time? Particularly like you build a house 5,000 years ago, it's still going to be there, because nothing's going to get rid of it. So maybe nobody's been in it for a long time.
Look, that could be right. But we also know there is other ethnographic evidence from the 19th century, not from the stone house sites, but from other house sites where, in fact, Europeans recorded villages with dozens of houses. So it's not implausible to say that these are, in fact, villages. So you get lots of them. Hundreds of them are being recorded.
In terms of excavations, we start getting some actual radiocarbon dates with these. This is some of the first work that was done by Jane Wesson in the early '80s. So she dug this house site that looked really nicely preserved. It had stone artefacts in it. Makes sense. But it also had flake bottle glass artefacts, which she thought, OK, this is interesting.
This looks like it might be from a post-contact period. And in fact, she says, I think from that idea of the Eumerella War, that maybe we're looking at some of these guerrilla camp sites of Aboriginal people during the frontier period. And it's like we heard the records of them, there's people who talk about the Gunditjmara being in the stony rises, and she's going, maybe this is one of these houses that they were living in. But they've got bits of bottle glass, little bits of metal, et cetera.
So she didn't get any radiocarbon dates. She didn't get any that went back in time. The ones that she did get on little bits of charcoal from fireplaces came out as modern. So probably 19th century. It all makes sense.
Liz Williams, for her PhD, later on in the 1980s, she dug a house, also down there in the Budj Bim landscape. She only got stone artefacts. A couple of bits of charcoal she radiocarbon dated. One of the pieces came out at 380 years ago. It's got a big standard deviation, there. It could be pre-contact, but it also could be 19th century as well. Radiocarbon dating is not that precise.
So sometimes people will quote very precise dates. That's actually not how the dates work. They always come with a plus or minus. So if you want it to be pre-contact, it can be pre-contact. There's some evidence for that. But the range of the dates, if you want it to be 19th century, there's something there for everybody. Right?
But that actually is the oldest date we still have for a stone house site, right? And it's ambiguous, but not too short. So actually, we don't know, even to this day. We haven't found, archaeologically, any definite pre-contact stone houses. They are there, we just haven't found them.
One of the problems is-- and I'm guilty of this myself, as I'm about to show you-- we all go around the landscape, and we go to work at which house we've got to dig. You're up in a paddock, and there's dozens of them there. You go, which one am I going to dig? It's a lot of work to dig a site, so which one am I going to dig?
You pick the best looking one. All right? The best looking one's probably the last ones to be used. Right? We all dig them, we all get bits of bottle glass and metal. Somebody is going to have to just bite the bullet and dig a daggy looking one that could be really old, right? That's what we've got to do. They've got to be there. We just have to do it.
So Sharon Lane also did her PhD on stone houses on the Budj Bim landscape. She dug a lot of houses, like eight or something. And again, she gets a mixture of stone artefacts and glass. So she didn't get any radiocarbon dates. She didn't think it was worthwhile, because she wasn't quite sure where the charcoal's coming from. It was because there was no definite fire places. She found little bits of charcoal, but she said, that could have washed in from anywhere. Yeah, maybe.
So we still don't really have dates. Certainly, the glass in there, flaked bottle glass, with the little scrapers, that's telling us at least 19th century. We know that. Right? Is it earlier? Don't know.
So the question is are all these houses from the frontier period? Are they frontier refuge sites associated with the guerrilla warfare? And this is the enduring question. Do they go back into pre-contact times? Right? So there's two chronological questions, here.
When you combine that with the question of how old the fish traps are, we've got three chronological questions there that still are relevant to the Archaeology of Western Victoria. All right? The one on the fish traps, though, I can make some quite dramatic insights into that with the work that we've done, and that's what I'll show you now.
Now, like I said at the beginning of the talk, this is work that Monash University has been doing, partnership, collaborative research, with the Gunditjmara community, and we started doing that in 2006, I think. So basically what I do is every summer, I take a group of students down to Western Victoria, and we meet up at the Gunditjmara community and work on Gunditjmara land. So they very much are hosting our work, and we work closely together.
Usually the sites that we excavate have been selected by the community. They say, we want to know more about this site, and we go, all right. Let's do it. Community members help us do the archaeological work as well.
So it's very much what we do, right from the beginning, even devising what the research questions are, doing the work, then interpreting the results. And we even publish the results together in scientific journals. So it's not just me as the author, it's me and the Gunditjmara community. So like I said, it's joint work. So this is the results of our work, right? Not just me. It's our work.
And one of the first sites that the Gunditjmara community wanted me to work on is known as Muldoon's Fish Trap. It's on the Southwest side of Lake Condah. It's high and dry. It used to get water through it during the wet season, but because of the drainage of Lake Condah, it's been high and dry for over 100 years, so water doesn't go through it anymore. But it did.
We know it did because one of the engineers, Alexander Ingram, who was one of the senior engineers on the drainage of Lake Condah in the late 19th century, actually went to this fish trap and took down all these notes and did a sketch map of it and actually said it's being used by Aboriginal people from the Lake Condah mission. So we know it was still being used in the late 19th century.
He thinks it's really interesting. He's documenting it. But he's also leading to its demise, because he's pulling the water out of the whole system. But in a sense, we are lucky enough we have this extraordinary document that he has. His notes, et cetera.
So it's a little bit tricky to work this trap out. It's in quite a rough part of the volcanic lava flow. But essentially what would happen is that the water would-- the banks of Lake Condah would flood, and Lake Condah becomes much bigger. And it starts moving. The water starts creeping through the lava flow.
And what the Gunditjmara have done is they're trying to control the way that water goes through various sections of the lava flow by creating channels and then also like rock walls to sort of-- you either make a channel by digging a hole, like a channel, or you braze the walls, like an elevated channel, I guess. So in a sense, they've done both. Now this site, there's different funnel sort of features.
And the water comes in, and it's being channelled. It goes around, and then it curves around to the left. And there's all these different interesting little curves, et cetera. It's got to do with managing water. Some of it's got to do with slowing the water flow down. At various points, there's little constriction points, where baskets would have been put to collect the eels.
It's around 350 metres long, this trap. And it's also got, at the bottom bit there, the dam wall, there's like a dam that goes across the-- sort of like pond water. So we decided to do two excavations, one of a channel feature and at the dam wall. Because we had this idea that people said, you can't date a stone wall. Yes and no.
Archaeologists do it all around the place. I mean, many places in the world, you dig an ancient city, how do you work out how old the wall is? Well, you date the materials that bury the wall. The wall's going to be older than the stuff that buries it. Make sense?
So I thought, why don't we dig some of these traps, dig the stone walls, go down, and if the stone wall goes under the ground, if there's sediment that buries it, there's charcoal in that sediment, radiocarbon date the charcoal. That tells you how old the dirt is. And the wall has to be older than the dirt that's burying it.
Seems pretty simple. And that's what we did. So we did it over a number of years with various groups of summer school students. So here's that funnel feature. Basically, where I took this photograph, that's where Malcolm Turnbull was standing. All right?
So we dug a pit one metre wide that goes across the channel, there. And here's a map we did. See? Peter Coutts can draw rocks, so can we. All right? And I mean, a lot of this is-- the reason you do that is so there's a permanent record of what we've done, so people in the future know exactly where we did our work. And outsiders, when you give public presentations or publications, people can see exactly what you're talking about.
So we dug down, and sure enough, that channel that you see today, it goes down another, well, nearly half a metre of sediment that filled in the channel. All right? Now, that's great news for archaeologists. It wouldn't be great news for the Gunditjmara, because their channel is being silted up by these flooding waters that bring in silt, et cetera.
And that was actually one of the things that a number of Gunditjmara people were saying to me. They'd never actually really contemplated the siltation is actually a problem their ancestors would have had to deal with with these sites. But luckily, we do have sediment that's building up in this channel feature.
So we got the rock walls that we can see on either side, but when we actually dug down, we got down to the original lava flow surface, but then it even deeper. And you can see where people have actually plucked out blocks of lava. Because when it cools, it goes into these sort of bricks, and you can sort of pull them out.
They pulled out these bricks that create like a channel through the lava. That got filled in, and then it looks like you've got two choices. Either dig the dirt out to make the channel work, or just build up-- put some rocks on the side to build the walls up. And it looks like they've done the latter. So thank god they left the dirt in there.
So here's a drawing. Archaeologists love their cross-sections and their drawings and put all the details in. So we dug it out in around 2, 3 centimetre levels at a time. We wanted to make sure that we captured the charcoal from different levels. You don't dig it out all in one go, all right? Because the charcoal at the top is more recent than the charcoal that's deeper down. So we made sure we did that.
So 16 pieces or little fragments of charcoal. We made sure it wasn't root wood, some old, dead tree that sort of burnt down. So we made sure it was a proper part of the tree above ground. We sent it off for radiocarbon dating. And basically, we got a sequence of dates going back to 6,500 thousand years.
So in the channel, you can see the bottom parts, there. This is a simplified drawing. The two-- there's actually-- at the channel bifurcates at this point. The dirt in there had charcoal in it that's around 6,500 years. So we were quite happy to say that those rocks were pulled out to create that channel at least 6,600 years ago.
Now, that was quite an extraordinary result. I didn't think it was going to be anything like that. Well, what is it? What have we got? At 6,500 thousand years ago, that's actually one of the world's oldest fish traps. And in fact, it's the world's oldest known stonewalled fish trap. And we go, that's not bad for a class project. Right?
But this is also when it gets interesting. There is four or five sort of tiers of rocks on either side that crowd the channel, which you can see when you walk around today. Half of those have been buried as well, the lower half, the lower tiers. And the charcoal at the bottom of that is around 600 to 800 years. So it looks like we have this early phase of construction, then not a lot of activity, and then around 600, 800 years ago, it's on for the young and old again, and they start building up these side walls. All right?
There is no fish trap in the world that anybody's ever shown that has that sort of continuity of use. Or at least sort of phased use over thousands and thousands of years. Because then the last people to use it, remember, is the late 19th century. We've got observations of people using this fish trap in the late 19th century by Alexander Ingram.
And the people who were using that, their ancestors, 6,600 years ago, started building the trap. Right? Which is quite extraordinary. And that's where we started getting our World Heritage nomination. So on anybody's scale, this is absolutely amazing.
So we thought, that was pretty good. Let's keep digging. So we went to the dam wall. A different sort of feature. What's its history? So here I am, looking very serious next to this little wall there.
So I clean it up, get a little moss off it, it looks much more obvious. So it's a little gap in the lava there that the Gunditjmara build a wall across to-- and it's a dam. It's to hold the water back. So it's like ponding. So it's like an example of what Peter Coutts was talking about, but in particular what Heather Builth was talking about, ponding to hold eels.
So if this is a holding pond for eels, this is like an aquaculture facility. So how old is the wall? Because that gives us an idea of how old the aquaculture might be. So did the same trick, digging down. Down, down, down. So you worked out you only see half the story with the stone wall. The other half is under the ground, thank goodness. That's what we want. Charcoal in it. That's what we want. Sent it off for radiocarbon dating.
And basically, the radiocarbon dates come out at the bottom there around 500 years ago. So that wall started being built about 500 years ago. So we've got at least some sort of an age for that ponding. It's at least 500 years old. So we're pretty happy with that.
So we've got at least 500 years for the aquaculture. I'm sure it's got to be older, but we've just got to do some more work. And at least going back 6,500 years, to the actual structure of the construction of the eel traps.
So how does that fit in with our-- go back to our graph here. Let's just put in the radiocarbon dates in pink they worked out for the traps. So I've got a bunch back at 6,500. Then there's nothing until, basically, the last 1,500 years of construction.
And I think that actually is real. Because that in-between period between say, 5,000 and 2,000 is paleo-climatic work that's been done from coring of volcanic craters in Western Victoria. It has shown that that period is actually a dry climate period, and it's more than likely Lake Condah didn't flood like it does today or it used to. That the waters never got there.
It doesn't get there now because Europeans have drained it, but it probably didn't get back in this period between at least 2,000 and 5,000 years ago for natural reasons. Because the climate is much drier. So that the poor old fish traps left high and dry. Then as things start getting wetter in the last couple of thousand years ago, and the Gunditjmara, they crank up this fish trap again. So it's on.
So what can we conclude from this? We've got one of the world's oldest known fish traps and certainly the world's oldest known stone wall fish trap. Fish trap buildings in phases. There's not much going on during the dry period, but it seems to be going on for young and old during the wet period.
Bird and Frankel will love that, right? That's that environmental thing. So that gives them quite a good tick. There's also major building activity in the last 1,000 years. Which it does coincide with the winter period, but it's also there's a lot of activity in the last 1,000 years which can't only be explained just because it's winter. It's like it's environment plus. It's where the social thing comes in.
Maybe there's a lot more groups. And this is one of the things that Harry Lourandos was talking about. What if a lot of these traps are used for inter-regional gatherings, ceremonial gatherings, where you have hundreds and hundreds of people. And in fact, in one case, it was recorded in the 19th century, like 1,000 Aboriginal people got together for a big meeting.
That's a lot of people to feed, right? So maybe you had these mass harvesting devices for eels, and maybe that's what's going on. That's the social sort of dimension that's coming into Harry. So maybe Harry gets a bit of a tick for that.
But the other thing too is that we've never had much activity for around that wet period around 6,000, 7,000 years ago. So we know that there are things happening there. It was a bit of a dark sort of period in Australian Archaeology for this part of the world, but now there's things happening. They're building fish traps, et cetera. So some interesting results there.
So just quickly look at the stone house excavations that we did. Here we go. Yes. This is a nice place to excavate, because it looks so good. So here's one of our groups of students there, working on why. Here's the map we did. Right, it's a bit further down. Like, under there, coming down here, down the lava flow. On Kurtonitj property-- that's property owned by the Gunditjmara community. So they own and manage that. So we're digging on their land. Well, I guess all of it's traditionally theirs, but they actually do have the ownership of this property.
And there's a map we did of the stone structure, there. The areas that were shaded in there, they're the places we dug. You can see the results. Looking very nice.
The amount of dirt that buried it, it's not much. Mostly around 10, 15 centimetres of sediment that's accumulated over the original floor of the structure. You've got a cross-section there you can see.
And when you peel off that layer of dirt, and we did that in-- well, again, we're digging sort of-- this one was more like 1 to 2 centimetre thick levels. We took it out very carefully. Very carefully. So we go down, down, down.
But when we get down to the original lava flow surface, which is the floor of the house, you can see that the rock wall that they built around the back sits directly on the lava flow. So it was pretty exposed lava that they decided to build the wall on. It's hard to get the stakes in the ground there, so you build a wall.
So that rock wall probably-- you can actually see there's gaps in it. Probably had stakes in there for the superstructure, and then there was a roof put on there. The other feature that you get-- so you've got the nice, flat floor inside the house, and it all gets a bit-- has a bit of cactus outside. That's quite deliberate. Because that's where they've got a ground oven, there.
So rocks have been pulled out so you can go down deeper. And I've got that little fire there I ripped off somewhere on the web. That's chockablock full of charcoal and little bits of burnt animal bones, et cetera. So quite clearly, this is just outside the house, you've got the place where the people are cooking.
We also found this. Flaked bottle glass, which other people had found before. So these are bottles that they've got somehow from Europeans. They smash the bottles up to make these scraping and cutting tools. So it's on the continuity from the stone tools, but now there's a new raw material in town. Here's that.
The other thing we found, right where that little yellow arrow is pointing, there was a cluster of around 35 nails. Machine-made. They look like they're blacksmith nails, but they're not. These are nails. European nails have been put into a little recess in the floor, hidden there.
They were all in perfect nick. Here they are, here. They've never been used, right? So they were all put together, and nobody ever found this before. And I'm thinking, what's going on there? A couple of other little things, there. A little percussion cap from a gun. And then we've got more of these bits of bottle glass, which other people had found.
But this just shows you like four examples here, three different views. And what you get, you're going to see, the bottle's been smashed, and along certain edges, you can see where it's being chipped to change the shape and the form of the cutting or scraping edge, but sometimes it's also-- it's just from intense use. So you get this micro nibbling along there. So you can tell that it's been used.
So you also get these little, tiny stone artefacts. Not many, but certainly some, including this little thing, here. It's like a little-- we call it a geometric microlith. Look at the scale. It's tiny. But it's a tool. It's been made.
Some people think they're like little spear barbs, other people think that maybe they're put on for little cutting tools. Probably all of the above is the short answer. So OK. So when was the house occupied? Well if you look at the percussion cap, it's in a form that was probably used-- there you go. Look at how it works.
1840 to 1870. OK. Got lead shot there. Well, kind of. It's a bit hard to date lead shot, so I'm not too sure. These Eubank nails, 1845 probably to 1870, so it matches up with the percussion cap. Bottle glass, there's no diagnostic features on the glass, no writing, I can't tell. So I'm just saying 19th century. It certainly looks 19th century. So we've got a couple of things to help us date the site.
So now just what we have here is this is a graph of going down the different levels. 1, 2, 3, 4, going down. They're those little levels I said I was taking out. And you have the depth there on the side. Going down to 45 centimetres. And that's a photograph of one little side of the pit, so you can see the dirt.
So what I've done is I've grafted different components, glass, metal, stone artefacts, and charcoal. It's like it's a temporal thing. It's like the history of the site. You can see down below, basically, we just get stone artefacts and some charcoal. And just over about halfway, we get the glass and the metal kicking in.
So what I think we have here is that certainly the upper part of the deposit-- now, this deposit, OK. That's the deepest part. And that's actually where their ground oven is. It goes a bit deeper, there.
The upper part most definitely post-contact. It's got glass, it's got metal. Maybe stone artefacts. Could just be that little ants and things moved the little artefacts up. But certainly, down below, it's only artefacts, stone artefacts, and only charcoal.
Does that mean it's pre-contact? So was it actually built in the pre-contact period, and then there's continuity in the post-contact period? I don't know. I don't know. It could be. I don't know.
But I'm much more happy with this to sort of say somewhere between 1840s and maybe up to 1870, we've we got this house being used. But traditionally, people have sort of-- like I showed you, people have said it would be from the 1840s refuge period. But why can't it also be from the 1850s and 1860s, when people had fringe camps on these properties as well? I don't think you can discount that.
So I'd like to think we could use this site to say I think we have to expand out our understanding of the Archaeology and the contact history. These sites might just not be from one decade, there might be a series of decades there of that extraordinary transition period for the Gunditjmara as they're coming to terms with this whole new property regime et cetera.
So just to finish up on, we'll get back to this nail cache. So on the left hand side, that's just as we started uncovering it. You can see the nails coming through the dirt there, all clustered together. There's my little drawing of each nail, and each one's numbered.
If it's from the 1840s, the question is, how did they get the nails? Because they haven't been used. It's not like they've gone into a house and pulled the nails out. These are in a bag or a box. That's how the Europeans got them. Somehow they got a-- if it's the 1840s, it could be from raiding. There was a lot of raiding of different European structures and houses, et cetera, or carts, et cetera.
If it's from the 1850s, 1860s, that's sort of a negotiated resistance that was going on. Much more bartering and exchange going on. Maybe it was a gift from a property owner. Maybe it was payment for doing work on the property. But we're not too sure.
The other big lingering question is though, and this is something that sort of hangs over the side, why didn't they ever come back to get the nails? It's still there. They put it there over 150 years ago. Somebody hid it away in a little pit in that house, basically under the floorboards, and they never came back to get it.
And then in 2012, when we did that excavation, there they were. We found them. So it's an enduring mystery for all of us, Gunditjmara and the like to try and ponder. So I'll leave it at that.
Wow, that was great. Thank you, Ian. Now, if people do have to go, we understand because we're just almost on 6:30. But if people do want to stay, we have some time for some questions. Now, we are recording these sessions, so we have roving mics on either side of the room. So if people are a bit patient while we get organised. Fiona, at the back.
Hi. I've just got a question. Has anyone investigated the sediments immediately outside of the stone houses to look for anything, or is that likely to happen at some point, to look for anything like ancient fireplaces or other activity traces?
Probably the best example of that is the work that Sharon Lane did. So she excavated quite a big area around a series of houses. So it was like inside the house, but also going many metres outside as well.
And certainly, you'd get like Grand Island features just outside, but you can't get them a little bit further out as well. But certainly, most of the activity seems to be around the immediate confines of the house or actually inside the house.
So we did a pit, I think it was a square jig in the Kurtonitj stone house. That was quite a few metres out, and it had one piece of glass in it, but that was it. So there wasn't much going on there. And that seems to be that the general pattern. Most of this is very much contained around the house.
Further to that last question, is there any sign of larders? Someplace where they might have stored meats or other gatherings?
Heather Builth thinks that some of what almost look like a small stone house structure might be for storage of preserved eels. Some people believe that. Some people would like a lot more evidence for that. So apart from what Heather's said, no.
Any evidence of smoking infrastructure kind of stuff?
Good question. Certainly Heather thinks so. Heather's done quite a lot of work, part of her PhD, looking at certain eucalypt trees that have a sort of burnt out sort of structure at the base and even to the point of getting some of the sediments and looking for eel lipid remains in them, and she believes that she's actually found it in there. So she believes that some of these trees are actually eel-smoking trees.
Again, like with the storage, some archaeologists believe that. A lot of archaeologists would actually-- we'd all like to believe it, but it just needs much more work. Because we don't actually know whether if you've got eels across the entire landscape, that eels get washed into the bottom of trees, and then trees get burnt. I mean, is it like most of that landscape has got eels tapping it. She could actually be right and really onto something quite fascinating. We just need more work done on it.
Any stories from the people that support that approach?
Yeah. Yes and no. So yeah.
Hi. I was just wondering if luminescence dating would be useful for the stone houses or the fish traps or even the sedimentation rate in the houses for dating.
We certainly could try. Yeah. I mean, at the moment, things are going pretty good with the C14, but it would be interesting to see whether we could use an alternative dating technique.
Even to back up your--
Yeah. So one of the things with the-- radiocarbon dates, like with the fish traps, there's always that issue of what are you dating. So where does the charcoal come from? So is it just some old charcoal that washed in?
And so what we went for was like a population of charcoal. That's why went through like 16 dates just to see if this can-- there's two things. Do they all come out in those certain clusters, or is there a sequence that goes through time? If they're all in nice sequence, like the oldest ones are at the bottom, and they get more recent as you go through time, you would expect that the chances of that being random, bits that just happened to wash in just suddenly just went in the right order, that would suggest that it's probably not that.
And in fact, that when the charcoal comes in, it is from that time period. So you get a bushfire, bit of soot, sediment, it gets buried. Another bush fire, a bit of sediment gets buried. And so the sediments in the charcoal are tracking. It's a true tracking of time. So it seems to work for that fish trap.
But it certainly needs more work. We've got one fish trap. Now, digging more fish traps is not going to show that I'm wrong. You might get different dates. The only way you can show that that date's wrong is to go back to that site and show that I've done something wrong there.
Because other people have said, well, maybe if you had three sites, I'd believe it. So that's not actually how it works. You don't read a newspaper and go, is that right? I'll go and buy another newspaper. It's got the same headline. Must be right.
But we certainly needn't-- I would like more work to be done. This is just the beginning. But it shows that we can sort of start trying to construct chronologies for these sites. So I think, yes. OSL would also be a great way of approaching this too. Particularly, we don't have much charcoal.
I'm wondering if there's a unit of measurement that you've found relative across any of the constructions that maybe aligns with what we use today or other civilizations around the world, say foots, or a yard of.
No idea. That's one answer to that. Obviously, people-- I mean there's patterning in the sizes of these structures. They're probably-- they might have a very deliberate sort of plan on how they're done. But what people's measurement units are, I don't know. So you need to talk to the Gunditjmara about that.
A question here and then one out of here.
Thanks so much for a really interesting talk. I'm wondering if you can speak more about the UNESCO World Heritage listing and what the implications of that are for the various Gunditjmara communities, registered parties. I'm thinking about obviously, it is a form of international recognition, but then with that, presumably, if they are successful, commons tourism, comes influx of people. I'm just wondering if you can speak to how that process is imagined to go forward and what the imagined implications and consequences might be.
Yeah. Good question. And also the best people to speak about that are the Gunditjmara, because they're the ones pushing it. So it's very much coming from their sort of drive for this. So obviously, they want it. This has been the main thrust of the community, for most of the community, to have this.
They are well aware that this is going to bring a lot of tourism and economic development to that part of the world, which is a key reason that essentially, they have had 100% support from the non-Aboriginal community in Western Victoria. So we had a meeting last year where the Gunditjmara posted this meeting, and all different sort of people from different businesses and farm owners, all sorts of people came in to the meeting, including the head of Alcoa, et cetera.
And everybody was just saying, we are all for this. Just bring it on. Right? Because everybody will benefit from this. Hopefully it'll put the place on the map, there will be increased visitation, tourism, of which everybody, but the Gunditjmara community and the non-Aboriginal community will benefit.
There's something there for everybody. So that's why everybody seems to be on board with it. So and the Gunditjmara, I mean, they're a seriously organised community. I mean, they are up for this.
So I think they are well aware of what's involved. They go around the world. They talk to other groups who have World Heritage sites. They know the sort of governance structures that are required for this. And certainly, the state government's right behind it, that they know the capacity to handle this sort of scale of thing that's been put forth. So everybody is very positive about it at this time.
Our next question, we've got down over here. And then Richard.
Hi. Great talk. I was just wondering about if there's any clues at all about how water actually-- how the dams worked, other than just the stones. Because I imagine the water would just flow right through the stones. So are there any-- do we think that maybe there was some weaving or some other fabric that actually made a proper wall?
Well, apart from the stone walls-- the stone walls are the ones that we know the best for that volcanic landscapes. As you get off the volcanic landscape, that's when you get those sort of woven, sort of wicker sort of structures. And some of those could be tens of metres long. And I think one that Robinson talks about was like 100 metres long, which is a big woven structure.
But certainly on the basalt steady rise, the Budj Bim lava flow, the key way of doing it appears to be the stone. But stone with the woven baskets. So you have like a channel, and you have a little constriction point, and that's where you put the basket down, and so the eels will go into that. So like I say, it's all about managing the water. So you manage the flow of the water, where the water goes, and that's where the eels will go. So it's all about channels and walls and dams.
So the dams, even though they were made of individual pieces of stone that the water wouldn't flow through them.
Yeah. That's a good question. There's some historical evidence that because yeah, the water could actually still go through. Two thoughts. Maybe there's just so much water that in fact, it still holds back a lot of water even though it leaks like a sieve, or lots of moss and stuff and ferns and things were shoved in there to help block it off. But obviously, it worked. I mean, yeah. Well, we know it worked, because they bloody sealed it up. And you get the silting.
In fact, we're doing that right at the moment. For that dam wall, the idea is-- in fact, we're essentially testing our idea, because science is always trying to prove yourself wrong. So if you've got the idea that dam wall was holding water back, so sediments trapped in the flood waters are going to hit that dam wall, and they should fall out of suspension.
Now, we got the dirt there, that shows that it is building up, but I'm having source people look at it at the moment and saying, can you tell me whether they are flood sediments that have fallen out of suspension of water from the particle sizes, et cetera? So we're actually looking into that. So yeah.
Richard's been waiting. I think we'll do Richard next. But please go, if you have to. Very engaging topic.
Is there any evidence of fish traps along Darlot's Creek itself? And the reason I ask that is Darlot's Creek is strongly influenced by groundwater, and it flows all the time, even in the driest periods. And it strikes me that it would have been a feature of the landscape, or it has been a feature of the landscape, for thousands of years. And I would have thought that people looking for eels, the first place they would have gone to would be the creek itself. So I wonder if there's any archaeological evidence of people trying to build structures along the creek to intercept eels.
There is, yes. There are some structures actually within the creek itself. There are old ones that have been recorded near the mission site. There are stone structures that are still being used today by the Gunditjmara. In fact, I was down there in 1995, and the guy said to me, come down and help us pre-assemble this stone wall, actually in Darlot Creek.
Which, as an archaeologist, it was sort of brought up with all the work of Harry Lourandos and people like David Frankel. I always thought this was in the ancient past, reading Robinson's journals. And suddenly I've got these Gunditjmara guys going, in the past? We'll show you how it's done.
So I actually went down, and they said, this is our stone wall that we build. We build it every season. We dismantle it when the water is running too much. And then when the water's the right level, and it is today, we'll go back, and we'll reassemble it properly and put in a woven-- well, this basket wasn't made out of the woven material, it's made out of chicken wire. It's the same principle. So yes is the answer, and it's still happening right now.
Just a little off topic, but I just was wondering personally, what do you love about Archaeology?
Who asked that? Where are you? Oh, there you are. Sorry. What do I love about Archaeology?
Yeah, just what do you love about it? Well, I've always wanted to be an archaeologist. So we're a bit of a weird bunch. Actually, what I would say now-- it wasn't like that when I first began. When I first began, it was just like the whole thrill of discovery of something old and new that nobody had found before.
The key thing I love about doing Australian Archaeology is working with communities. So that's the real bonus. And certainly when you introduce students to that, that's the big thing they take away as well. So it's not just going out and working on some ancient sites where there's no descendants. It's like you're right there in the thick of the present day community whose ancestors made that material. And that's the most rewarding part of it, I think.
And we are blessed in Australia to have all these different Aboriginal communities that are happy for all this archaeological work to be done, and they host us, and we go in there, and we work together on these sites. And in many cases, like with the Gunditjmara eel fishing, it's a tradition that's still alive.
I mean, I can dig a site that's 6,500 years old, and we've got European records from the 19th century showing that it was used, and also we've got Gunditjmara who can say come and help me rebuild this stone wall. I mean, that's our history. And that's what we have in this country. It's absolutely extraordinary. So I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to do it here.
Final question there, and then one back down here.
Yeah, hi. I was just wondering--
Anybody else? Don't all put your hands up.
OK. Let's see how we go.
I just have a question about the uniqueness of the sites to this part of the world. I'm wondering if you're aware of other sites across Australia that might share similar features, evidence of aquaculture or agriculture.
There's other places that have stone houses. Not many. There's a few places in WA, but not many. Not that-- I mean, 99% of all stone houses that have been recorded in Australia are down there. Most of the fishing structures, freshwater fishing structures that have been recorded are probably down there as well.
Other places, obviously, in Australia do have them. In terms of the aquaculture though, there are some places in the Murray-Darling area where people talk about embankments being made to hold back flood waters.
There are records from the 19th century and also oral histories that talk about that or people dropping trees. Like, you dig out trees on an embankment, and actually, a huge tree comes down, and then it dams off an area. But nothing on the sort of scale that we're talking about here.
And the other thing, so for a World Heritage nomination, it's got to tick a lot of boxes. And the extraordinary thing we have about this Budj Bim landscape is that it's a living landscape. There is still a community there. They own a lot of that landscape.
The sort of things that we're talking about archaeologically, people are still doing. It's a tradition that goes right up-- it's not an old tradition. It has antiquity, but people are still doing it. And because it's a volcanic landscape, like I said at the beginning, basically, every structure that has ever been built there over thousands of years is still there. So you have that long continuity for looking at a long-term history of these sites.
So you start building up this sort of argument and saying, look. Other places do have bits of these features, but there's one place that seems to have it all. Now, that's the argument we're going to have to put together for the World Heritage nomination, which goes to UNESCO, and then that will be assessed.
So we'll see what-- they'll send it out to the international assessors, other archaeologists who work in this sort of field in other parts of the world. And they will sort of either go, you're absolutely right, or they'll go, well, actually, there's a few other spots that might be similar. We'll see.
We've done a lot of research, and we don't think there's any place that ticks as many boxes as this. The other thing with World Heritage is that they're quite happy to start doing more regionally-focused things. So it doesn't all have to be on the one yardstick. So we don't have to be compared with the pyramids or Stonehenge. That's all very nice for people over there, but we live here.
So what what's amazing for our part of the world? So maybe we'll just look at the Pacific, or we'll just look at Australia. What is our sort of world significance for the content of Australia. That becomes our yardstick. So we're sort of just playing this game of like, yeah, mine's bigger and better and all of that sort of stuff. So I think the World Heritage Convention is trying to diversify a lot more, which I think is good.
We really are pressed for time, so we'll allow one more question.
The museum's probably got a collection of nails like that, but they probably wouldn't let you experiment on them. They have very little tensile strength, so you actually can't pull them out. You have to cut them out or burn them. So my question is actually is it possible that those nails came from a packing case or something like that that was actually burned, and somebody sifted through the ashes to get them.
Because we also know that nails were used as fishhooks at different times as well. It's actually an intriguing find. But I just wonder, we know that new nails were so uncommon. If you look at Warwick Homestead, some of that has been built where obviously they didn't have any nails at all. But really, so my question is, is it possible that they're are actually used nails that were picked out of ashes?
It's not impossible. So I guess the argument I've got is that they look basically-- they're very rusty. So that's a caveat. But they do seem to be in perfect condition. None of them had any bends at all. I just notice that a lot of nails that do get found in historic archaeological sites, including places that get burnt down, they've all got bends, and sometimes their head's a bit bent over and all that sort of stuff. These are all perfect. All perfect. You sort of go, hmm. So what's the chances of that?
Some of them are a good 8 centimetres long. So invariably, they get bent and stuff. But it's like, yeah. For all of them to look like they're in perfect nick, it does seem odd. So it can't be 100%, of course, but that's an odd. Hm.