Aboriginal sites are documented throughout Australia in numerous archaeological research collections.

Archaeological sites are localities where the material evidence of past human activity is preserved. They include camping sites, quarries and ceremonial sites. The evidence, in the form of cultural material and remnants of various craftworks, bones of animals, rock art and ceremonial arrangements, carved trees and fireplaces, can be found on the land surface or beneath in stratified positions. Sites with stratified materials have greater potential for revealing a chronology of past events and the sequence of cultural and environmental changes over time.

Archaeologists examined these sites, often by way of excavation, to recover material evidence and, importantly, to document the complex spatial relationships of objects to each other as well as their association with natural sediments. Materials and documentation obtained via field research can be further analysed in the laboratory to learn how Indigenous Australians lived, used resources and adapted to environmental changes in the past. Depending on the quality of documentation and research questions, archaeological material can be studied in many different ways, enriching our understanding of human life in the past.

The Australian Museum holds a large body of materials obtained from Aboriginal archaeological sites in New South Wales. They include about 2,000 collections of materials (assemblages) recovered via systematic field research. These were assembled typically with the consent of Indigenous communities and permits issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and currently the New South Wales Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water – both of which have been responsible for protecting of Aboriginal sites in the state since 1974.

The Museum's archaeology collection dates from the late 19th century with the first cultural object entered into the Anthropology registration system being a stone hatchet (axe) from the Culgoa River region of inland northern New South Wales, donated to the Museum in 1886.


Lodgement of Archaeological Collections, Australian Museum

In New South Wales, the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 provides for the protection and management of Aboriginal archaeological materials, and nominates the Australian Museum as one of the potential repositories for Aboriginal archaeological objects.

The Australian Museum holds the most comprehensive collection of Aboriginal archaeological objects for NSW: a collection notable by its geographic and thematic extent, historic nature, the quality of its documentation and accessibility. This collection now numbers over a million objects, roughly 75% of which derived from archaeological research or salvage work authorised under the legislative framework of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Two documents are available to guide archaeologists or other heritage practitioners seeking to lodge material under the auspices of NSW heritage and planning legislation.

  1. The Archaeological Collection Deposition Policy outlines the conditions under which the Australian Museum will accept archaeological materials collected under the framework of the relevant NSW legislation. The policy identifies two guiding principals under by which the Museum will determine whether or not to accept material: its significance and the capacity of the Museum to house the materials.
  2. In NSW the for the Deposition of Archaeological Materials are designed to make sure that any archaeological materials deposited in the Museum are done so in a manner that will allow it to curate the material as effectively and efficiently as possible. The protocols outline the Museum's requirements regarding packaging, documentation and cost recovery.



Discover the Port Jackson archaeology project

This project researched the rich and complex culture of Aboriginal people in the Port Jackson region, revealing continuing importance and connections.

Learn more