International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 782–805 | Cite as

Understanding Cultural History Using Ground-Penetrating Radar Mapping of Unmarked Graves in the Mapoon Mission Cemetery, Western Cape York, Queensland, Australia

  • Mary-Jean Sutton
  • Lawrence B. Conyers
  • With contributions by Alma Day, Harriet Flinders, Florence Luff, Susie Madua, Zoe De Jersey, Stan De Jersey, Roy Savo, and William Busch


The Mapoon Mission Cemetery in Cape York, Queensland contains unmarked pre-contact burials with potential national heritage values, despite a lack of formal recognition and protection through State and National heritage listings. Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) showed great potential as a non-intrusive technique to identify over 120 potential unmarked graves and understand mortuary practices at the Cemetery. When integrated with written and oral histories, such information provided new insights into the cultural history of this region, particularly the continuity of Aboriginal occupation and changes in mortuary practices since the establishment of the Mapoon Mission.


Missions Mapoon Ground-penetrating radar Unmarked graves Burial detection 



We would like to thank the Elders of Mapoon who were involved in the preparation of this paper and who welcomed us into their homes. This paper would not have been possible without their support and generosity. We would like to acknowledge Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers and the Mapoon Interim Land and Sea Advisory Committee for their participation and support in the ground penetrating radar survey. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council for accommodation and assistance during these investigations. We would like to acknowledge Dr. Sally Babidge and Geoff Wharton who reviewed an early draft of this paper. Thanks to Dr. Sean Ulm, Prof. Paul Memmott, and Dr. Lynley Wallis who provided encouragement during fieldwork throughout 2010. Lastly, we would like to thank Chris Newman of Rio Tino Alcan who prepared historical aerial photographs of Cullen Point which assisted with these investigations and Craig Evenden, who assisted with fieldwork voluntarily throughout June to October 2010 and with the preparation of the figures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary-Jean Sutton
    • 1
  • Lawrence B. Conyers
    • 2
  • With contributions by Alma Day, Harriet Flinders, Florence Luff, Susie Madua, Zoe De Jersey, Stan De Jersey, Roy Savo, and William Busch
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social ScienceUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.EldersMapoonAustralia

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