World cultures


Senior Curator, World Cultures, Dr Barry Craig, showing a1926 film on a laptop to villagers in the Torricelli Mountains, West Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea.

Research overview

The Museum’s significant World Cultures collections are from the Pacific, Africa, South-East Asia, Asia and the Americas. They bring the world’s cultures to Adelaide for original research, including identifying collectors and locating objects in their cultural context. These objects provide fascinating insights into the many different things people make, and how and why they make them, highlighting similarities and differences between cultures separated by time and geography.

Much of the material in the World Cultures collection was poorly documented when originally obtained by the Museum. The main goal of the Museum’s World Cultures research group is to learn more about the objects and their collectors so that their stories may be told.

Cultural information is obtained via archival research, cooperative research with other museums and field work using photographs and digitised film of objects. Dr Barry Craig, Senior Curator, World Cultures, enlists the help of students, volunteers and other researchers whenever possible.


Pacific Cultures Gallery  exhibit from West Sepik Province.

Pacific Cultures Gallery exhibit from West Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, collected by Patrol Officer Kenneth Thomas (1927–34). The female figure became the subject of field research using a digitised 1926 film [see Craig, B. (2012) in Pacific Arts New Series 12 (1): 5–19]. 

Our Research

Dr Barry Craig was formerly Curator of Anthropology at the Papua New Guinea (PNG) National Museum. He has considerable field research and collecting experience in Papua New Guinea, focussing on art and material culture. He also has an interest in researching other collections of the South Australian Museum, especially from South-East Asia and Africa.

Michael O’Donoghue is an Honorary Research Associate who has been researching and publishing our ancient Egypt collections.

Dr Rod Ewins has catalogued and documented the Museum’s entire Fijian collection of almost 900 objects which can be viewed on his website.

Current and recent research projects by the World Cultures group include:

  • the six-year Upper Sepik-Central New Guinea Project, funded by two Australian Research Council Linkage Grants, Ok Tedi Mining Ltd and the South Australian Museum. This project seeks to understand to what extent similarities and differences in material culture in the study region are determined by geographical distance, language, environment, subsistence strategies, marriage, warfare and trade. Ten thousand objects collected from known locations in the study area were photographed in museums and private collections worldwide. The Project website provides an explanation of the project, photographs, informative papers and an in-progress dataset of images and details of around 2500 objects from collection points located on a satellite terrain map of the region. This website is of considerable cultural heritage value for the peoples of the study region.
  • a catalogue of objects in the ‘War Museum Collection’ in Museum Victoria. This catalogue — resulting from collaborative research by Dr Barry Craig, Dr Ron Vanderwal, Emeritus Curator, Museum Victoria and Dr Christine Winter, School of History and International Relations, Flinders University— has published about half of the 600 objects collected by Australian military personnel in the former German New Guinea colony, sent to Melbourne for the future War Museum from 1915 to 1920, [delete parentheses] but transferred to Museum Victoria in 1925. The book was launched in April 2016 and is available in the South Australian Museum bookshop.
  • a transcription and analysis of songs of the Upper Sepik region of New Guinea. During 2012, Dr Christopher Roberts, musician and ethnomusicologist, spent six months at the South Australian Museum as a Fulbright Senior Scholar preparing his book, Music of the Star Mountains (Central New Guinea) for publication in 2014 by the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. He is now teaching music in Taiwan and collaborating on the transcription and analysis of songs of the upper Sepik peoples recorded by Dr Craig in 1973.
  • Shields of Melanesia: a published survey of war shields of Melanesia. Edited and contributed to by Harry Beran and Dr Barry Craig, this is the first comprehensive book on the war shields of Melanesia and illustrates more than 100 types of shields from all over the region.
  • Living Spirits with Fixed Abodes: a catalogue of the Masterpieces Exhibition of the Papua New Guinea National Museum. Edited and primarily authored by Dr Barry Craig, this publication provides a thorough account of each of the 209 objects on display, setting these important works in their cultural context with historical and field photographs. An Appendix provides an overview of the collections held by the PNG National Museum.