5 minutes with Nick Hadnutt, Curator of Archaeology

Did you know…. archaeology is also a science? Spend 5 minutes with Nick Hadnutt, Curator of Archaeology and find out what his favourite collection item is.

What is your favourite object in the collection and why?

The Investigator Tree. I’m interested in this amazing artefact due to its connection with early Australian exploration. It was located on Sweers Island, Gulf of Carpentaria – a place visited by mariners from across the world from at least the 1600s. Dutch mariners mapped the island and, in 1802, Mathew Flinders anchored off the island and found remains of pottery which may have been related to the visits to the island by Chinese and Macassan sailors (from Indonesia’s Sulawesi island). Later, Captain Stokes visited the island in 1841 in the Beagle – the same ship made famous by Charles Darwin and his voyage of discovery around the world in 1831. The names and dates of these visits and others are carved into the trunk of this tree.

Do you have any interesting stories about Collection items?

There are a few. The first is an Air Raid Precaution (ARP) bunker –  we collected doors and wall sections from a civil defence command bunker relating to the defence of Brisbane during World War 2 (1939-1945). The bunker was constructed in 1941 and was situated in the basement of the Roma Street Police Station (built 1878) on the corner of Roma, Turbot and Albert Streets. It was cleared in 2006 to make way for the Inner Northern Busway.

Another is Sandstock bricks that were  recovered from a burial vault overlooking the Brisbane River, opposite Queensland Museum. The 11 bricks are believed to be from Brisbane’s earliest burial ground, positioned on North Quay. The remains of early colonists were placed in the brick vault because the soil along the rocky escarpment was too hard to dig. The remains were removed in the 1880’s to Toowong cemetery and the vault left abandoned before the construction of the Riverside Expressway in 1974 uncovered them.

Convict shoe – Donated in 1913, this shoe was “found on roof of Government Stores, Brisbane”, known as the Commissariat Store. The Store built by convict labour in 1829 and the sole of the shoe was found during buildings works in 1913 to install an elevator. The sole of the boot appears to be from a woman’s boot, however, the small size of the foot (only 200mm long and 68mm wide) suggests the boot may have belonged to a child. Shoes and boots were often hidden inside the cavities of buildings in order to ward away evil spirits. Folk magic like this was fairly prevalent during the early days of Australia’s colonies.

Did you know…?

Did you know….archaeology is also a science? For example, scientific dating was used to date charcoal from Kenniff Cave, a rock shelter in the Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland. The excavations initially took place in 1961 and revealed that Aboriginal occupation extended beyond the last ice age and provided (at that time) the earliest evidence for rock art in the world – painted approximately 19500 years ago. The Kenniff Cave archaeology collection, including the charcoal vital for radiocarbon dating the site, is held at Queensland Museum.

Tell us a little bit about your area and why do you love working in this specific research area?

Archaeology interprets human behaviour through the physical objects we create, use and discard. In this regard, archaeologists utilise a multitude of theories and methodologies in order to create valid models of human behaviour and then test these theories using the artefacts we recover. I enjoy the process of recovering and recording evidence (the things people have left behind), the identification and interpreting of the who, what, when and why, the application of a theory to understand the interpretation and then the writing and presenting of the data and process. I love the breadth of knowledge required by an archaeologist – an understanding of geology, soil science, chemical dating techniques, geophysical scanning, photogrammetry and laser scanning, history, anatomy, conservation – even first aid and 4WD skills. In other words, I love investigating secrets and finding lost things. I love to travel to amazing places to conduct fieldwork and see new things. I love to explore, get dirty, imagine people’s past lives in the places I’m standing and wonder what it all means.

What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum? Why?

I love the opportunities working at Queensland Museum provides me. I have access to the highly significant archaeology collections and artefacts that are held at the Museum but I also have great opportunities to partner with other organisations to do fieldwork in some very special places in Queensland. And then I have the opportunity to work with a great team at QM to share these stories with our community.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

That Aboriginal song lines extend all the way across Australia and that Aboriginal people traded materials between the Gulf of Carpentaria and Adelaide. Many Australians have little understanding of how connected Aboriginal Australians were before colonisation.

Learn more about Nick Hadnutt here.