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Archaeologies

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 412–442 | Cite as

Truth-Telling in the Wake of European Contact: Historical Investigation of Aboriginal Skeletal Remains from Normanton

  • Shaun AdamsEmail author
  • Richard Martin
  • Susan Phillips
  • Colin Macgregor
  • Michael Westaway
Research

Abstract

This study heeds the call for a ‘truth-telling’ of injustices carried out on Aboriginal communities during the colonial acquisition of Australia as stated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart 2017. Here, we discuss the lives of eight Indigenous people buried in Normanton in north-west Queensland (QLD) who died and had their remains collected in the late 1890s as scientific specimens. The remains were later repatriated to the community before being further exposed by erosion in 2015. With the consent and participation of local traditional owners—the Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people—this assessment utilised bioarchaeological, historical and anthropological methodologies to gain a better understanding of Indigenous life and health on the Australian colonial frontier. Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people were engaged throughout the investigation, and statements throughout this piece made by them illustrate how bioarchaeology can inform on past injustices in Australia’s history, bringing them into the public consciousness and aiding the transition to reconciliation through ‘truth-telling’.

Key Words

Indigenous archaeology Contact history Bioarchaeology 

Résumé

La présente étude répond au cri d’appel à la vérité lancé en vertu de l’Énoncé du cœur d’Uluru de 2017 relativement aux injustices commises auprès des communautés autochtones durant l’acquisition coloniale de l’Australie. Nous y discutons de la vie de huit Autochtones enterrés à Normanton au nord-ouest du Queensland (QLD) et dont les restes furent recueillis à la fin des années 1890 comme spécimens scientifiques. Ces restes furent plus tard rapatriés dans la communauté avant d’être à nouveau exposés par l’érosion en 2015. Avec le consentement et la participation de leurs dépositaires traditionnels locaux, les peuples Gkuthaarn et Kukatj, la présente évaluation a eu recours à des méthodes bioarchéologiques, historiques et anthropologiques pour faire la lumière sur la vie et la santé des Autochtones de la zone frontière coloniale australienne. Les peuples Gkuthaarn et Kukatj ont participé à l’investigation et leurs commentaires, ici rapportés, illustrent bien la façon dont la bioarchéologie peut transformer les injustices passées de l’histoire australienne, sensibilisant le public et ouvrant la voie à la réconciliation en faisant état de la vérité.

Resumen

Este estudio retoma el llamado a dar “testimonio de la verdad” sobre las injusticias cometidas contra las comunidades aborígenes durante la adquisición colonial de Australia, como se plantea en la Declaración de Uluru desde el Corazón de 2017. Abordamos aquí las vidas de ocho personas indígenas enterradas en Normanton en el noroeste de Queensland (QLD) que murieron y cuyos restos fueron recogidos en los años 1890 como especímenes científicos. Se devolvieron los restos a la comunidad más tarde antes de quedar más expuestos por erosión en 2015. Con el consentimiento y participación de los propietarios tradicionales —los pueblos gkuthaarn y kukatj— se utilizaron metodologías bioarqueológicas, históricas y antropológicas en la evaluación para lograr un mejor entendimiento de la vida y la salud de los pueblos autóctonos de la frontera colonial australiana. Los pueblos gkuthaarn y kukatj participaron durante toda la investigación y sus declaraciones incluidas en este artículo ilustran la manera en que la bioarqueología puede proporcionar información sobre las injusticias del pasado en la historia de Australia, creando conciencia al respecto entre el público y contribuyendo a la reconciliación por medio de los ‘testimonios de la verdad”.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to extend our thanks to the Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people of the south-eastern Gulf Country for inviting us to carry out this study. Thank you to the Normanton Rangers for assisting with fieldwork and allowing us to use their facilities throughout the investigation. A special thank you to Phillip George, Richie Bee and Francine George for their contributions to the research. Thank you to David McGahan for assisting with excavation and documentation of the remains. Assistance was also provided by Steve Nichols and the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Partnership (DATSIP). This research was funded through ARC linkage LP140100387.

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Copyright information

© World Archaeological Congress 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Research Centre for Human EvolutionGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia
  2. 2.University of Queensland School of Social SciencesSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.13th Floor St James HallSydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Australian MuseumSydneyAustralia

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