Hunter Gatherer Research

Reflections on CB08-500

Alternative narratives, Aboriginal heritage and significance assessment in Western Australia

Hunter Gatherer Research (2016), 2, (3), 327–343.

Abstract

This paper reflects on two narratives about CB08-500, a rock shelter in the inland Pilbara region of Western Australia. The conventional archaeological account emphasises the recent date of the site and its similarity to other sites in the region. The alternative account was developed for inclusion in a community book about sites in Nyiyaparli country. This imagines a vignette of past activity at the site and speculates about its connection to recent historical events. Use of the shelter is not remembered today, but Nyiyaparli generally view archaeological sites as indicating their connection to country and providing information about the lives of their ancestors. The alternative accounts raise issues about how archaeological sites are assessed during the compliance process and how they are interpreted for clients and the wider public. Archaeological investigation in the Pilbara region over the last 30 years has overwhelmingly occurred in the context of mining development, and there is a strong emphasis on site documentation. The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, as currently interpreted, requires sites to meet a relatively high threshold of significance. Archaeological significance assessment tends to privilege overarching narratives relating to the colonisation of the continent and the impact of environmental change. However, most sites in the region cannot be connected to these. Our alternative narrative highlights site preservation and connection with recent history and suggests how archaeologists might more effectively engage with clients and the wider community to address questions of significance assessment.

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Author details

Bird, Caroline

Hook, Fiona

Rhoads, James W