Photo of stone hand axes These stone hand axes from England are over 500,000 years old

Archaeology studies human society by analysing its material remnants. These remnants are sometimes small objects (or ‘artefacts’), such as stone tools, pieces of pottery, coins, or glass bottles, but they can also be entire buildings or even entire towns. Other remnants aren’t objects at all, but are human alterations to the landscape, such as the art on a cave wall, or the irrigation channels of an early farming community.

Archaeology used to be focussed on the old world civilisations like Egypt (Egyptology) or Greece and Rome (Classical Archaeology), but archaeologists now study human activity from any place or time period, from our early ancestors to Antarctic explorers, to the interior of a Ford van and even into space.

Archaeology in Australia

Archaeologists working in Australia are able to study many different aspects of this country’s diverse, and extremely old, archaeological past. Many work with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander groups, seeking to document the arrival of the First Australians around 60,000 years ago, or to trace the way that these dynamic cultures have changed over the millennia, adapting to a changing social and physical environment. Other archaeologists focus on the later arrivals to these shores – the European explorers, Makassar traders and the British colonists – exploring how they have interacted with Indigenous people, with the environment, and with one another.

Archaeology at the Queensland Museum

Photo of QM archaeologists Queensland Museum archaeologists excavating one of Burke and Wills’ camps.

 The Queensland Museum is an active contributor to this exploration of Australia’s, and particularly Queensland’s, archaeological past. As well as keeping archaeological collections safe for future generations, we conduct archaeological excavations around the state, generating new knowledge about Queensland’s past. Most recently, we have recovered objects from one of the camps of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition which crossed through far Western Queensland in1860-1861. These objects provide insight into the explorer’s experience of Queensland, and will be on display at Queensland Museum Southbank in late 2010.

Protecting our Archaeological Past

Our archaeological heritage is rare and important, and needs to be conserved and protected wherever possible. Because of this, legislation at both federal and state levels makes it illegal to disturb this heritage. If you see an object or area that you think might be of archaeological value, make sure that you do not move or alter it. Instead, make detailed notes of its appearance and location, and inform the relevant authority in your area. In Queensland this is the Department of Environment and Resource Management.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.