A recent phase of Aboriginal occupation in Lawn Hill Gorge: a case study in ethnoarchaeology

Richard Robinson, David Trigger

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The use of ethnography in Australian archaeology has become an accepted device for the formulation of arguments to assist archaeological interpretation. The 'ethnographic background' forms a chapter for almost every archaeological thesis and many of the articles produced in the Australian archaeological 'trade journals' relate archaeology to ethnography in some way. One interesting and paradoxical aspect of Australian archaeology is the overwhelming use of ethnohistorical or ethnographic sources in preference to ethnoarchaeological ones. Reduced to its simplest form this means that archaeologists undertaking research on Aboriginal archaeology and who rely on ethnographic analogy to develop their arguments, prefer to do so from ethnohistorical or ethnographic sources rather than undertaking ethnographic research themselves.

The question can be posed: if archaeologists working in Australia need ethnographic analogy, and it would appear many do, why is so little ethnoarchaeological work undertaken to obtain data which may offer new insights to assist the interpretation of the archaeological record? Answers to this question relate to a complex set of issues, including an ambivalent attitude to the relationship between social anthropology and archaeology in Australia which varies from seeing them as separate disciplines to viewing archaeology as a subdiscipline of anthropology. In some universities social anthropology is not taught as part of training in archaeology and archaeologists may lack the anthropological skills to conduct ethnoarchaeology. Other factors include the expense of undertaking long term research in remote areas, access to those remote areas and effective supervision by archaeologists of projects that may include a significant social anthropological component. Answers to the questions that archaeologists ask may simply not require an ethnoarchaeological perspective. In this paper it is argued that the lack of ethnoarchaeological work also relates to poorly defined notions of ethnoarchaeology, analogy and Aboriginality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian Archaeology
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1989


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