An ethnoarchaeology of engagement: Yanyuwa places and the lived cultural domain in northern Australia

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In this article I outline an ethnoarchaeology of human engagement across indigenous homelands in northern Australia. An ethnoarchaeology of engagement is concerned with the intangible cultural imprints of past human groups across landscapes that are memorialised by their descendants today. I argue that ethnoarchaeology carried out across indigenous homelands and alongside the descendants of past landscape occupants prompts rethinking of the primacy granted to tangible cultural imprints. It highlights the value of taking into account culturally prescribed codes of human engagement, as well as the long and short term processes of change that at once influence human action and the creation of a tangible record of such action. This is a particularly valuable approach when there exists a discrepancy between the archaeological landscape and the ethnographic and oral testimonies that vividly document people’s occupation of culturally powerful places. In this study, I identify two key elements that impact heavily upon the tangible expression of past human engagements with place, namely, culturally prescribed rules of human behaviour and colonial acts of landscape de-signification. Using an ethnoarchaeological method, I consider the impact of these elements on the formation and preservation of an archaeological record at places of ongoing human occupation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-120
Number of pages22
JournalEthnoarchaeology: Journal of Archaeological, Ethnographic and Experimental Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Indigenous Australians
  • Northern Australia
  • Culture


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