Credibility in the creek: A study at Sturtbrae, Adelaide, evaluating mudlarking as a method in public archaeology

Author: Ryan Buhagiar

Buhagiar, Ryan, 2022 Credibility in the creek: A study at Sturtbrae, Adelaide, evaluating mudlarking as a method in public archaeology, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Mudlarking, an activity most often carried out by ‘amateur archaeologists’ and artefact collectors, involves the collection of cultural material from both tidal and intermittent waterways—environments where dynamic natural and cultural forces first act to displace, disperse and conceal objects, then ultimately make them visible again and fortuitously available to the mudlark. This thesis aims to assess the archaeological value of historical archaeological material collected from a Warri Parri/Sturt River tributary running through the 180-year-old Sturtbrae property in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. In doing so, it compares artefacts collected using mudlarking methods to those collected using common, costly and destructive archaeological excavation methods from similar historic homesteads in South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

The thesis aims to elevate what Carman and Sørenson (2009:20) label the ‘distinctive trope of publication in the field’, an individual case study, into a critical discussion of historical archaeology and the potential therein to better involve members of the non-professional community. With mudlarking at Sturtbrae resulting in the retrieval of artefacts that corroborate and complement the available historical documentary record, this thesis reflects upon ways that historical archaeology can better engage communities, looking toward discourse on public archaeology to maximise a community’s contribution and connection to the discipline. It recognises that community heritage is neither static nor neutral. Instead, it is fluid and political, and can be revised and reconstructed whenever communities are provided power. Through programs like the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme, mudlarking can act as ‘citizen archaeology’ through which non-professionals can collect artefacts already removed from original depositional contexts and at risk of being lost entirely. These people, then, can contribute to archaeological datasets and to making more inclusive historical and archaeological narratives of the past.

Keywords: Adelaide, Adelaide archaeology, Adelaide history, Archaeology, Historical archaeology, Mudlarking, Public archaeology, Sturt River, Sturtbrae

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Heather Burke