Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Archaeological Evidence in the De Rose Hill Native Title Claim

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Archaeological Evidence in the De Rose Hill Native Title Claim

Article excerpt

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 Crown's 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.

Introduction

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 Solicitor's 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 (Verb 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 Crown's 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 area.

* 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 land--demonstrated that testing of archaeological issues does not have to be counterproductive nor acrimonious. While the Federal Court's instructions to native title expert witnesses states that this role is not to be seen as adversarial, there are many examples of this occurring--particularly with anthropological evidence--and 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. Veth's initial recording of the archaeological evidence was at the behest of the claimants. It focused on sites known to the claimants--and 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). …

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