Provenance of ochre and Aboriginal artefacts


An ochred object from the Museum's Australian Aboriginal Cultures Collection: a wooden time-beating stick from Melville Island, Northern Territory. A47187, South Australian Museum.

Minerals may hold the key to many questions we have about the culture of the first Australians. 

The Minerals team at the South Australian Museum, led by Professor Allan Pring, have been working with Flinders University to determine the provenance of ochres in Aboriginal artefacts held in the Museum’s collections. 

In most cases, provenance of the artefact itself has already been established. Determining where the ochre on the artefact came from is another matter. This information will allow researchers to determine the relationship between the site of the ochre quarry and the site of where the artefact was collected. 

The minerals on the artefact need to be analysed. In the past, the only way to do this was to take a sample from the object and test it. New non-destructive techniques are now available to scientists to perform this same test, but without causing harm to the object. 

This research was conducted in collaboration with Flinders University and funded by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.