Category Archives: Collection Management

Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Histories of archaeology in Oceania

As part of the Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific (CBAP) Project (led by the Australian National University in Canberra), the Museum of Tropical Queensland is currently participating in the worldwide exhibition, Uncovering Pacific Pasts: Histories of archaeology in Oceania. The collaborative display is featured in over 30 collecting institutions around the world, and explores the ideas, people and networks that were pivotal in the development of archaeology. The displays show how social interactions continue to affect the ways in which we interpret and engage with the history of the Pacific.

The Museum of Tropical Queensland chose to feature a range of stone adzes from HMS Pandora and investigate what the objects themselves can tell us about who made, used and traded them.

Polynesian stone tools excavated from HMS Pandora (1791)

Twenty five basalt adze blades and five basalt pounders were excavated from HMS Pandora, from the area thought to be the officer’s storeroom. These Polynesian tools give insight into the movement of objects in the 18th century.

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Stone adzes excavated from HMS Pandora

The late 18th century was a time of burgeoning exploration, colonisation and settlement by Europeans throughout Oceania. Driven by the high demand for ‘artificial curiosities’ in Europe, sailors on the early voyages made a habit of collecting souvenirs or ‘curios’ from islands in the Pacific. Museums and private collectors sought out these prized objects, with many items forming the basis of early European museum collections.

Objects often become disconnected from information about where or how they were collected, and the people who originally owned and used them. The Pandora collection, however, is different. Documentary evidence – the captain’s log – links the stone tools to specific regions in the Pacific islands where Pandora stopped to search for the HMAV Bounty mutineers.

While the captain’s logbook does not specifically mention the crew actively collecting the ‘curiosities’ during the voyage, the excavated assemblage is evidence that trade and exchange occurred between the crew and the local peoples.

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Made from volcanic rock, the adze blades were usually attached or hafted to a wooden handle with plaited coconut fibre

Mid-20th century archaeological investigation placed emphasis on the shape and form of adzes, suggesting that certain types of adze originated from different island groups across Oceania. These studies also suggest that the location of where the artefact was found is also where the stone was sourced and the tool manufactured. This method of investigation is known as typological analysis, and it identifies the majority of adzes from Pandora as coming from the Society Islands where the crew spent many weeks during the voyage. The remaining adzes are thought to have originated from the Southern Cook Islands, where Pandora visited Aitutaki and Palmerston Island. Interestingly, typological analysis of one style of adze identifies it as originating from Tubuai, an island visited by Bounty but not Pandora.

More recently, researchers used a non-destructive geo-chemical technique called portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) to determine the composition of the stone tools and identify quarry sources. These results open up more interesting questions. Did each island group have their own quarry where they dug out the stone for their tools or was the unshaped rock moved between the different island groups? If this occurred, what can we learn about Polynesian voyaging, social networks and exchange throughout the Pacific?

Soon, we will be able to better understand how these objects moved throughout Oceania, prior to their journey on Pandora. The results of these studies are forthcoming.

Alison Mann, Assistant Collection Manager, Museum of Tropical Queensland

This display is now on at Museum of Tropical Queensland from 1 March 2020.

To see what other objects are on display around the world and the links between them please visit uncoveringpacificpasts.org

Re-imagining Pandora

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

In 1790, HMS Pandora sailed out of England with a clear mission: to find the HMS Bounty and its 25 mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti in March 1791, and captured 14 of the mutineers, restraining them in the makeshift prison cell on the stern deck, ‘Pandora’s Box’. Leaving Tahiti in May 1791, Pandora spent the next several months searching for the remaining mutineers on other islands in the South-West Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Rotuma and Tokelau. On the eventual journey home to the United Kingdom in August, after failing to track down the nine other mutineers, Pandora ran aground and sank whilst attempting to traverse the Torres Strait.

The wreck remained undisturbed until 1977. Upon discovery of the shipwreck site, the Queensland Museum conducted several archaeological expeditions between 1979 and 1999. The extensive excavations unearthed a significant amount of the buried ship’s hull, as well as the well-preserved collection of artefacts now held by the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

When Pandora sank, so did almost everything on board the vessel. The Queensland Museum team uncovered a large assemblage of artefacts that shed light on the everyday lifestyle on board the ship during its eventful journey, as well as a range of Polynesian artefacts that the crew had collected whilst on the islands.

Among these Polynesian objects were a collection of fishhooks and shanks made from mother of pearl shell. Research on the collection deduced that the shell shanks, in particular, were parts of fishing lures used for trolling bonito fish. When suspended in water during use, the lures resemble small fish moving in the water, and attract the predatory bonito. After over 180 years underwater, the other distinguishing features of the lures – the hook and plant fibres – disintegrated prior to discovery of the wreck. The shanks, therefore, cannot be linked to one particular area, as this kind of lure was not only common in French Polynesia, but in a variety of regions across Oceania. They came in a variety of forms, colours and sizes, depending where they were manufactured.

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MA7901 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.
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MA8098 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s
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MA8023.1 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland is the display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’. As part of the display, artist and anthropologist Tokainiua Devatine created an art installation inspired by the many pearl shell shanks from the Pandora wreck. In his artwork, Tokainiua aimed to represent the variation in the pearl shanks, displaying different sizes, colours and forms of the shell pieces in his interpretive artwork.

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Art installation created by artist Tokainiua Devatine, currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
People in French Polynesia still use bonito lures made from mother of pearl shells to catch bonito fish. Although, today metal hooks and synthetic fibres are used on the lures, instead of the natural fibres and shell or bone hooks used when the Pandora’s crew acquired the lures.

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E40896 Bonito lure. PhD student and curator Jasmin Guenther purchased this lure in French Polynesia in 2018.

Alongside the pearl shanks found on the Pandora wreck site were several pearl fishhooks. Fishhooks used in French Polynesia at the time of Pandora’s journey through Oceania also came in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use and associated region. Locals would frequently include the hooks in trade and exchange practices, and European visitors to the islands avidly collected them in the 1700s.

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MA8006 Fish hook fragment. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Unlike the lures, pearl fishhooks are no longer used for recreational or commercial fishing today.

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E40888, E40889. Tahitian artist Hiro Ou Wen created these fishhooks in 2018 as reproductions of the traditional pearl fishhooks discovered at the Pandora shipwreck.

To learn more about the material culture of French Polynesia, and the connection between Pandora artefacts and contemporary art in Oceania today, visit the Museum of Tropical Queensland and experience the current display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

Well, that’s a pickle!

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories

Sometimes when working with the collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, you see an object that just makes you stop in your tracks. The object featured today is one that really made me stop and think. So what is it?

A bottle of pickled onions. Exciting, I know!

This bottle was manufactured by Nuttall & Co in Lancashire, England between 1873 and 1887. It was then transferred onto the Scottish Prince, where it would become part of the cargo travelling with passengers on the vessel from the United Kingdom to Australia in the late 19th century.

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On the 2nd of February, 1887, the Scottish Prince was making the final stage of its journey under the command of William Little, sailing into Moreton Bay, Queensland. William Little left the ship that night, with a less-experienced Second Mate in charge of the vessel. Just before midnight, the Scottish Prince ran aground at the southern end of Stradbroke Island.

More than 60 years later in 1955, the ‘Under Water Research Group of Queensland’ discovered the wreck. The site was explored and, in many cases, pillaged by divers collecting souvenirs and scrap metal.

This bottle of pickled onions was uncovered from the Scottish Prince wreck in 1974, by Mr Elliott. He collected it before the implementation of the Historic Shipwreck Act in 1976, which enacted new regulations that protect historic shipwrecks in Commonwealth waters, and maintain their use for educational, recreational and scientific purposes. In 1993, an historic shipwreck amnesty was established which encouraged divers and other private collectors to declare their artefacts from shipwrecks older than 75 years, without charges being laid, in order for the Commonwealth to document and create a more complete understanding of the existing artefacts and heritage of Australian Maritime history.

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Elliott declared this object at the time of the amnesty, and in 2017, donated the bottle of pickled onions to Museum of Tropical Queensland, where it became a valued addition to the Museum’s Maritime collection.

The bottle – with the lid still intact, and the onions inside still preserved – has lasted throughout its tumultuous history with almost no damage! Another interesting element is that the lid was made with a lead seal, which would have heavily contaminated the contents of the bottle had they ever been consumed. So no, even if we wanted to crack the bottle open, we couldn’t eat these pickled onions anymore! Created in the late 19th century in the United Kingdom, and then remaining – untouched and undamaged – underwater for almost 70 years in Australian waters, this object has lived a very interesting life, and seen things we can only imagine.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

Celebrating women in science

We celebrate the achievements of women, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who have forged the way for those of us in science today, and to give an opportunity for children: girls and boys, to choose role models in science – Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, BSc MSc MD PhD

This coming 11 February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science and to celebrate we’re featuring some of the incredible scientists and staff involved in the scientific field across the Queensland Museum Network. Their hard work and excellent contributions often help inspire women and young girls who are interested in following a path in science. We delve into why they chose to get involved in science and what they’ve found most rewarding.

#goals #inspo

Marissa McNamara
Lab Manager and Collection Manager (marine for crustacea)

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I work with preserved crabs, prawns, lobsters and other amazing creatures from around Australia, and I get to see the incredible diversity and beauty of life every day. I also help members of the public identify crustaceans they find (often on the beach or the reef), and it’s fantastic to see what people discover. I feel like I learn something new every day! As an added bonus, for Halloween I get to dress up and show off our ‘creepiest’ looking specimens!

Rebekah Collins
Manager, SparkLab and Discovery Centre

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It is really rewarding to create experiences that support visitor learning, hearing people share their memories, stories and connections with the Museum and the Sciencentre, and seeing how much it means to them, especially those who later go on to study or be involved with science.

Joanne Wilkinson
Senior Fossil Preparator and Geosciences Volunteer Coordinator

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At age 9 I asked for a Chemistry set for Christmas. That’s when my love of litmus paper and the test tubes began. Many years later, combining my interest in fossils and my love of test tubes and laboratories, I find myself Senior Fossil Preparator at Queensland Museum. The most rewarding part of working in the fossil scientific community is the discovery of new sites and new species which add to fossil record of Australia and ultimately to the fossil record of the planet.

Susan Wright
Collection Manager, Terrestrial Environments (Entomology)

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The best part of my job as a Collection Manager is that I get to help a wide range of people, from scientists to artists, to conduct fascinating (sometimes bizarre) research regarding insects, our collections and the people that contribute to them. I learn something new every day.

Chae Swindell
Learning Officer, Future Makers

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The most rewarding part of my role is using our collections and research to develop resources that inspire and excite students, teachers and the community about science!

Christine Lambkin
Curator of Entomology

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I became an entomologist and evolutionary biologist because I am fascinated by the interaction between the incredible beauty and unbelievable diversity of insects, and our attempts to mathematically estimate the relationships between species based on morphology and genetics.

Rochelle Lawrence
Research Assistant and Honorary, Vertebrate Palaeontology

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I chose to get involved in science because of my fascination with the natural world, especially our unique fossil fauna and how they can help us better understand the present and impacts or future environmental change.

Kristen Spring
Collection Manager, Geosciences

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I got into science because although there is too much to discover in one lifetime, I was certainly determined to try!

Susan Turner
DAAD Professor and Honorary Research Fellow, Geosciences

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I got hooked at around eight years old by reading a book on dinosaurs – the joy of finding the right mentor led me into vertebrate palaeontology in my twenties. Five decades on I still get excited knowing I am the first person to see a new fossil specimen, and sometimes have the joy of identifying and naming it for posterity.

Jessica Worthington Wilmer 
Research Fellow and Molecular Identities Lab Manager

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I became a biologist (evolutionary geneticist) to better understand the world I live in and to use that knowledge to help save threatened and endangered species.

Carole J Burrow
Honorary Research Fellow

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The most rewarding aspect of my work in vertebrate palaeontology is working out new information about very old things (300 to 400 million year old fossils) to help our understanding of how the earliest back-boned animals with jaws are related to each other.

Amy Boulding
Head, Lifelong Learning 

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Amy (back) and Rebekah officially opening the doors to SparkLab

I originally got into science because I loved that I could ask lots of questions and go find the answers by getting my hands dirty and exploring the natural world. I’m super proud of now leading the Lifelong Learning team, and seeing all of the ways that my team create and facilitate those life-changing, enlightening, inspiring moments with people on all different themes and stories within the Museum.

Sue-Ann Watson
Senior Curator (Marine Invertebrates)

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Making new discoveries is the most rewarding part of science. Being the first to know something is really exciting.

Barbara Baehr
Arachnologist and “Australian Spider Lady”

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Barbara with her daughter

I chose to get involved in science because it’s great to be at the forefront of discoveries and I love to be a role model for my daughters.

Jessica Johnson 
Learning Officer, SparkLab, and Forensic Scientist

Jessica Johnson

I chose science when I held a real human brain in my hands and realised that this was a person, that 1.5kgs was everything that made someone them, and there’s nothing more rewarding then seeing the look on a child’s face when they understand something new and exciting about science.

Claire Chakrabarti
Learning Officer, SparkLab

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I was the child that always asked why and I chose to pursue a career in science as it provided the answers.

Susan Wightley 
Information Officer, Discovery Centre 

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I have always been fascinated by the huge variety of animals, the adaptations to their environment and how they interact with it and each other. I am in my dream job helping people understand and appreciate the complexity and awesomeness of the natural environment around them.

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Following the paper trail

When it comes to growing the State Collection, objects find their path to the Queensland Museum Network in a variety of ways. Objects are often acquired, such as the purchasing of art works or other items of significance. Other times, we receive an object through a donation or cultural gift. But in some cases, an object is so old and so rare that we aren’t even sure exactly how we received it to begin with – perhaps even through chance.

Continue reading Following the paper trail

Celebrating a remarkable career – Dr John Hooper

Dr John Hooper has been an integral part of the Queensland Museum Network and has made a significant contribution during his 27 years here, 14 of which he has been Head of the Biodiversity and Geosciences program.  Having retired in June 2018, John leaves a lasting legacy not only to the Queensland Museum Network but to the broader scientific community.

Continue reading Celebrating a remarkable career – Dr John Hooper

A sperm sewing machine oil bottle from Aarhus

Written by Tate Devantier-Thomas, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

This is part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches. Continue reading A sperm sewing machine oil bottle from Aarhus