Koonalda Cave, South Australia.

Collection Overview

Archaeological digs from around South Australia have yielded a wealth of information about the way Australian Aboriginal people lived prior to the impact of European settlement.

The Archaeology Collection at the South Australian Museum contains artefacts from some of Australia’s most significant excavations, for example Ngaut Ngaut. This site was the first formal archaeological excavation in Australia and took place in the Murraylands in 1927 by South Australian Museum Anthropologists Norman Tindale and Herbert Hale. The Archaeology Collection also includes more recent assemblages such as finds from the Adelaide Gaol and the new Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

The collection focuses on Australian Indigenous lithics (stone tools) and food remains, such as animal bones and shell collected from cave deposits and coastal dunes. Some of these artefacts date from 40,000 years ago, yet are well preserved because of Australia’s dry climate. A small component of the collection comprises pottery and glass imported by early settlers from other continents, or manufactured in Adelaide after 1840.

There are over 2 million lithics from all over the State (and some from interstate), the first of which were collected in the 1890s. They are catalogued by lot numbers with each lot referring to a box of lithics. Each box may contain one or hundreds of items inside.

The Archaeology Collection also contains approximately 300 type specimens, offering the physical example of the first descriptions of Australian lithics, and the base from which other types are described.

There is also a significant representation of material from Kangaroo Island. Evidence for Indigenous occupation on the Island was not known until Museum geologist Walter Howchin provided evidence in c1900. This subset of the collection is now the largest in Australia.

Archaeology assemblage

Animal bones being sorted in the Archaeology collection.