Beneath the Top End: A regional assessment of submerged archaeological potential in the Northern Territory, Australia

John McCarthy, Chelsea Wiseman, Katherine Woo, David Steinberg, Michael O’Leary, Daryl Wesley, Liam M. Brady, Sean Ulm, Jonathan Benjamin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Regional-scale assessments have proven to be invaluable frameworks for research, public engagement and management of submerged archaeological landscapes. Regional-scale approaches have been implemented internationally through a variety of academic or strategic studies. Such studies represent a much-needed next step towards subregional and site-level prospection to support management, engagement and mitigation of the impacts of offshore development. However, these regional studies are largely absent in Australia. In this article, we build on the recent discovery of submerged archaeological sites in Western Australia and produce a novel regional-scale assessment of submerged archaeological and cultural landscape potential in the coastal and island regions of the Northern Territory. This area is of special significance in the peopling of Australia, containing some of the oldest dated archaeological evidence. We collate and synthesise regional data related to sea-level change, ethnography (e.g. oral traditions), geomorphology, and archaeology, also taking account of logistics and existing data availability to identify prospective areas for further study. We highlight the need for a coordinated national program of regional baseline studies to address a legacy of under-representation of submerged landscapes and provide vital baseline data for a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including researchers, policy makers, environmental and heritage managers, developers and Traditional Owners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-83
Number of pages19
JournalAustralian Archaeology
Issue number1
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Archaeological Research Frameworks are another mechanism used to evaluate regional potential, and studies of this nature have been undertaken in parts of Europe. Cross-disciplinary collaborative attempts at national or regional levels have been used to define future research priorities, founded on detailed archaeological baseline studies. In some cases, such studies have provided a mechanism for regional assessment of submerged landscapes. In 2009 the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Belgium collaborated on a research and management framework for the submerged archaeology of the Southern North Sea (Peeters et al. ), which was recently updated for the Netherlands section (Peeters et al. ). Occasional calls have been made to develop similar Archaeological Research Frameworks for Australia (Iacono ; Schacht ) but they have yet to be produced. The Submerged Prehistoric Archaeology and Landscapes of the Continental Shelf (SPLASHCOS) Network in Europe was funded by the European Science Foundation through their Cooperation in Science and Technology Trans-Domain Framework (TD-902), and was designed to facilitate the communication and formation of a European-wide network of researchers, policy makers, managers and industrial partners, specifically devoted to the archaeology of submerged landscapes. This has led to a series of national baseline studies and the integration of data in an online viewer (see the various contributions in Bailey et al. ).

Funding Information:
This article arises from research funded by the Northern Territory Government and we would like to acknowledge the support of the Northern Territory Heritage Branch and funding provided through the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (Cwlth).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Australian Archaeological Association Inc.


  • archaeological prospection
  • coastal geomorphology
  • Indigenous archaeology
  • Submerged landscape archaeology
  • underwater cultural heritage


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