Holocene Archaeology and Ngarrindjeri Ruwe/Ruwar (Land, Body, Spirit): A Critical Indigenous Approach to Understanding the Lower Murray River, South Australia

Chris Wilson

Research output: Other contributionpeer-review


This thesis contributes to two areas within the discipline of archaeology. Firstly, it contributes to the emerging discourse of Indigenous archaeologies in Australia through the development of a new methodological framework for Indigenous archaeologists. Secondly, it presents a synthesis of evidence from archaeological shell deposits (also shell middens) along the Lower Murray River, South Australia, that address specific questions about chronology, antiquity of occupation, subsistence and the contemporary challenges of applying Ngarrindjeri philosophies to research, archaeological practice and ongoing management of Ruwe/Ruwar (Land, Body, and Spirit). Although the initial focus was to examine shell deposits located in Ngarrindjeri Ruwe/Ruwar it is argued that the development of methodological approaches are integral to undertaking archaeological research with Indigenous communities. For the discipline, this locally specific approach provides a framework for archaeologists and Indigenous peoples working collaboratively and interdisciplinary that consider standpoint, Indigenous epistemologies and lived histories as key criteria for identifying Indigenous specific methodologies in archaeological research.

The first contribution this thesis makes is to the field of Indigenous archaeologies through the explicit development of a methodology that considers the political context of Indigenous archaeologists conducting academic research for their own communities. Within this thesis, I have coined the phrase ‘Ngarrindjeri Archaeological Standpoint’, meaning an explicit exploration of the researcher’s lived experiences and prior knowledge, relationship to the Ngarrindjeri community, critique of colonial practices (archives, representations and scientific investigations) and how multiple narratives can assist in a more holistic interpretation of the archaeological record. It is acknowledged that this approach is not necessarily exclusive to Indigenous peoples. However, in this case, identity and lived experiences provide an entry point for exploring cross-cultural engagements in the research process. Ngarrindjeri epistemologies, critical theory, standpoint theory and Indigenous archaeologies have informed the theoretical framework whilst culturally appropriate decisions were negotiated with members of the Ngarrindjeri leadership in relation to archaeological methods employed.

The second contribution this thesis makes is synthesis of archaeological research from south-eastern South Australia through an analysis of shell middens in Ngarrindjeri Ruwe/Ruwar. These sites (as the most dominant physically) and their associated cultural, spiritual, political values provide new evidence of occupation and lifeways in the Lower Murray River. The findings contribute to broader theories and debates about Indigenous people’s use of local resources, trade networks, adaption to the environment and technological developments, as well as socio-economic behaviour in the mid-Holocene. Radiocarbon ages have provided a chronology for occupation which spans the early Holocene, from ca 8600 years BP at Murrawong (Glen Lossie) to the present at Pomberuk (Hume Reserve). The majority of ages reported for both surface and excavated samples fall within the mid-Holocene, ca 4500 years BP. The material record associated with these investigations reflects varying historical accounts of Ngarrindjeri lifeways at contact, evidence for adaptation and seasonal patterns for resource use with a more refined chronology for occupation locally.
Original languageEnglish
TypePhD thesis
PublisherFlinders University
Number of pages283
Place of PublicationAdelaide
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


  • Indigenous archaeology
  • archaeology of the Lower Murray River
  • Ngarrindjeri
  • radiocarbon dating


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