The Archaeology Collection held by the South Australian Museum is largely comprised of Australian Indigenous lithics and food remains, but also includes some lithics and pottery from other continents. The Australian Indigenous material is held at our offsite archaeology facility.
The Australian Indigenous Collection includes highly significant excavation assemblages, surface collections and donations.
The collection is searched using a database catalogued by lot numbers. Each lot refers to a box of lithics, which can number one or hundreds of items to a box. There are approximately 30,000 lots listed on the database, representing well over one million lithics.
Our collecting of Indigenous lithics across Australia started in 1900, in a non-systematic fashion. At the time, collecting tended to focus on highly recognisable objects, such as hatchets, axes, grindstones and hammerstones.
In 1907 the first collection of modest 'chippings' was garnered from the Southern Fleurieu of South Australia. Chippings as collectable items failed to make much inroad until much later in the 20th century, following the advent of archaeological excavation.
The first formal Australian archaeological excavation took place in 1927 on the River Murray, South Australia. At the time, it was known as Devon Downs but is now better known as Ngaut Ngaut. The site was excavated by Museum staff Norman Tindale and Herbert Hale. The significant assemblage acquired from this excavation is housed in the Museum's Archaeology Collection. Following this benchmark exercise in Australian archaeology, further excavations took place on the River Murray and elsewhere in Australia, influencing the process of surface collecting to become more systematic.
The importance of having archaeology finds provenanced (recorded precisely to site and geographic location) cannot be overstated. However, donations by amateur enthusiasts, which are rarely provenanced, have always provided an interesting backdrop to the collection.
Notable Museum staff collectors include Walther Howchin, Harold Cooper, Thomas D Campbell and Norman Tindale. Cooper added over 2080 lots to the database and Tindale (along with field colleagues) added 2630 lots. Well known and significant archaeologists of the 20th century have also added to the collection through excavation or systematic collection, including Professor Derek J Mulvaney, Dr A Gallus, Dr Rhys Jones and Dr Ron Lampert.
The collection holds many type specimens, offering the physical example of the very first descriptions of Australian lithics.
There is also a significant amount of material from Kangaroo Island (KI). This island was thought to have been void of Indigenous occupation until the first finds of stone tools were made there in 1900 by Walther Howchin. The South Australian Museum collection of KI material is now the largest in Australia.
The second half of the 20th century saw a shift towards a major archaeological focus on South Australia. After 1950, the south east and Nullabor regions also increased their profiles with major expedition and collecting efforts, to fill gaps identifiied by Museum staff and researchers.
The collection also includes casts, skins, and pieces of pecked art from the Flinders and Mt Lofty Ranges.