FACT SHEETS

Scarp Archaeology – Bridging CABAH Research and Professional Archaeology

18.01.18 by CABAH

Down in the bottom of a trench, within a cave in the arid interior of Australia is where you will usually find the team from Scarp Archaeology.  These guys provide expert advice and cultural heritage management services throughout Australia, but with a focus on working with remote Aboriginal communities in the most remote corners of the country.  Spending more time in planes and covered in dust in the desert than at home, Scarp are the only heritage consulting company that are a part of CABAH.

Over the next 7 years of CABAH, Scarp will be involved providing field leadership in the Pilbara, Gulf country and Central Australian field campaigns, and working closely with a range of researchers and specialists on a variety of projects.  It’s our goal to develop a deep understanding of the timing of Aboriginal settlement in all these areas, and of how people lived for thousands more years in areas we still find incredibly hard to exist in.

Archaeologists performing excavations.
How long have people been in different parts of Australia?
What did people do during the last Ice Age?

“Despite a few old dates around Australia, much of the country is a blank map to archaeologists. CABAH is a real once in a lifetime opportunity to fill in this map”
Dr Michael Slack

Pilbara Adventures

Since forming in 2007 Scarp Archaeology has spent most of their time working in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia.  The Pilbara is a region of great contrasts; expansive spinifex plains giving way to the massive ironstone cliffs and rolling hills of the Hamersley Plateau.  Across this massive landscape there are only a few rivers, and none of these are permanent.  Despite such a harsh landscape, work by Scarp Archaeology has established an antiquity of Aboriginal occupation spanning over 45,000 years, and likely featuring settlement during the last Ice Age (30,000 – 18,000 years ago).

Pilbara Adventures

Since forming in 2007 Scarp Archaeology has spent most of their time working in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia.  The Pilbara is a region of great contrasts; expansive spinifex plains giving way to the massive ironstone cliffs and rolling hills of the Hamersley Plateau.  Across this massive landscape there are only a few rivers, and none of these are permanent.  Despite such a harsh landscape, work by Scarp Archaeology has established an antiquity of Aboriginal occupation spanning over 45,000 years, and likely featuring settlement during the last Ice Age (30,000 – 18,000 years ago).

Artefacts found in the Pilbara region.

Amazing Finds

During excavations in the Pilbara some amazing technologies have been unearthed.  We have recovered the oldest evidence of wooden tools in Australia at around 43,000 years ago, spear points that have ochre on their tip which we think might be used in rituals rather than for hunting, and in one area of the Pilbara we find hundreds of archaeological stone arrangements that look like little ‘stone-henges’, the purpose of which archaeologists are still trying to work out.

“What’s really great about all the archaeology we get to do is that the local Aboriginal community are right there with us, trowel or gps in hand all the way through the process finding these things themselves, and some people even volunteer to speak at national conferences about the work”

CABAH and Scarp

As a member of CABAH, Scarp Archaeology will be focused on finding and excavating new and hopefully very significant sites over the coming years.  What is particularly exciting is that the CABAH team of specialists will be involved in these projects, with geochronologists, palaeoanthropologists, palaeoecologists, geomorphologists, geneticists, and not to mention some of the best archaeologists in the country all out there in the field with us!  The synergies at CABAH have already enabled us to access some of the best labs in the world for site sediment dating and even allowed us to test for DNA in ancient human hair.  This is just the start, as CABAH gets going and the major projects start over coming years.

In Western Australia we are looking to expand our knowledge of the Aboriginal settlement of the Hamersley Plateau by looking east towards the deserts to central Australia.  When did people get to the most central parts of the continent, how, and what sort of specialist tools did they either carry with them or invent along the way?

In the Gulf of Carpentaria there is another region that might help answer the same questions.  At Riversleigh in Queensland we will be embarking on another major project looking at settlement routes inland, but this time trying to understand whether these routes tie in with colonisation from Arnhem Land and probably island South East Asia, or whether there is evidence of people travelling south down from New Guinea.

In central and northern Australia we will also be spending some time camping and looking for the next big sites.  “It’s going to be great to be out under the big skies with Indigenous communities looking for the next big, deep caves”.  Tying together all the arid centre data with the coast, means we will be working closely with the research team led by CABAH Deputy Director Prof. Sean Ulm at James Cook University.

CABAH also allows us to develop new skills and work in new areas.  A couple of months ago Dr Michael Slack, Partner Investigator and Director of Scarp Archaeology, experienced what it’s like to work in the tropics rather than the desert for a change, excavating in near 100% humidity in the massive limestone caves of Borneo with CABAH Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Darren Curnoe.  Despite the sweat, the results of these excavations were amazing with an archaeology of staggering antiquity, and the opportunity to work in a World Heritage area and clearly sacred landscape along side members of the Sarawak museum and UNSW.

An increasing role for Traditional Owners in the Scientific process

Scarp Archaeology has always been a strong advocate for empowering local Aboriginal people through direct involvement in both our field and lab projects.  We provide training on all aspects of field archaeology to the local guys, and encourage them to take over our jobs, recording, analysing and excavating their own heritage.  Over many years we have had traditional owner representatives attend the Australian Archaeology Association conference (the national archaeology conference for Australia).

The community engagement and education focus of CABAH will allow us to further assist in developing meaningful programmes for Indigenous people at varying levels; from school age projects in local communities, through hopefully to Scarp staff co-supervising Indigenous higher degree projects.

“One exciting area we are developing is the ability to bring Indigenous people from different areas (even Borneo!) on some of our commercial work.  It’s great to see the idea already being positively received by some of Australia’s biggest companies too!”

An increasing role for Traditional Owners in the Scientific process

Scarp Archaeology has always been a strong advocate for empowering local Aboriginal people through direct involvement in both our field and lab projects.  We provide training on all aspects of field archaeology to the local guys, and encourage them to take over our jobs, recording, analysing and excavating their own heritage.  Over many years we have had traditional owner representatives attend the Australian Archaeology Association conference (the national archaeology conference for Australia).

The community engagement and education focus of CABAH will allow us to further assist in developing meaningful programmes for Indigenous people at varying levels; from school age projects in local communities, through hopefully to Scarp staff co-supervising Indigenous higher degree projects.

“One exciting area we are developing is the ability to bring Indigenous people from different areas (even Borneo!) on some of our commercial work.  It’s great to see the idea already being positively received by some of Australia’s biggest companies too!”

The Pilbara Region.

CABAH really does mark a unique opportunity in archaeological research in Australia, and comes at a time of significant discoveries, like at the Madgebebe site in the Northern Territory.  Over the next 6 years Scarp Archaeology will be out there in the desert, at the bottom of new caves, helping the researchers to discover the Australian past in a collaborative way never achieved before.

If you are interested in discovering more about Scarp Archaeology; our work or research check out our new web page, and follow our company Instagram page for a look at the lighter side of archaeology.  Scarp is a commercial business specialising in large scale projects across Australia, so if you want to get in touch about projects we are also there for you!

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