New species: velvet gecko discovered on one of Australia’s northern islands

Scientists from Queensland Museum, Griffith University, University of Melbourne and the Northern Territory Government have described a colourful new velvet gecko from Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory.

This species only occurs on Groote, Australia’s third largest offshore island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Groote Eylandt Velvet Gecko, Oedura nesos, is a large and colourful species with white bands and yellow spots that lives in rock crevices. Perhaps even more striking than the adults, are the babies which are black with bright white bands.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Oliver says “this species was formerly confused with another similar gecko we described in 2016, called Oedura bella, but we had some clues that it might not be the same”.

Oedura_bella_adult_and_baby_Stuart_Nielsen
Oedura bella adult and baby. Image by Stuart_Nielsen.
Oedura_bella_BorroloolaNT_Jordan_Mulder
Oedura bella. Image by Jordan Mulder.
Oedura_nesos_adult_GrooteEylandt_NT_ChrisJolly
Oedura nesos adult. Image by Chris Jolly.
Oedura_nesos_baby_Angurugu_NT_ChrisJolly
Oedura nesos baby. Image by Chris Jolly.

Learn more at the Discovery Centre
Are you curious about a unidentified gecko you’ve found in your backyard? Ask one of our experts here.

Remember to share your images with us on social media by using the hashtags #DiscoveryQM and #myqldmuseum.

We thank the traditional owners of Groote and Anindilyakwa land council for their support for this work.

Searching for Surprise Rainbows with SparkLab

Kate, SparkLab Learning Officer, South Bank

Discover rainbows around your home and explore the science of light and colour.

Have you ever noticed a rainbow somewhere that you didn’t expect one? SparkLab Learning Officers have been discovering surprise rainbows all over their homes. This got us thinking… Where do rainbows come from? And how can we create our own rainbows at home?

Search for your own surprise rainbows!

You can explore this too by looking for surprise rainbows around your home. You might find them in the kitchen, in the garden when the sprinkler is on… or somewhere else altogether! What do you notice about the rainbows you find? Are they in dark places or bright places? Do you usually find them at night, in the morning, or during the day? What colours do you see? Where are those colours coming from?

How can we make our own rainbows?

There are lots of ways you can make your own rainbows. Try using objects like a CD or DVD, a big glass of water, or a clear sparkly object. You will also need a little bit of light, next to a little bit of shade. Move your objects around slowly in the light and look very carefully for rainbows. You might want to try moving your object close to the table, the floor or the wall.

  1. Where do you notice the rainbows occurring? What shapes do they make?
  2. What colours and patterns do you notice? Do they always look the same?
  3. What colour is the light that is shining on your object? Is it the same colour as the colours in your rainbow?

Hidden colours: The science behind a rainbow

Rainbows are created when white light gets split up into all its different colours. Sunlight is made up of lots of different colours of light mixed together – we call this white light. When white light passes through some materials, the different colours of light bend – or refract – at different angles. This means that when the light comes out the other side of the material, the different colours of light have split and spread apart. We see this as bands of different colours – a rainbow!

The tiny ridges on a CD or DVD can also split white light up into different colours. As the colours of light bounce off the CD they overlap, which makes some colours appear brighter and cancels other colours out.

Take your exploration further

You can keep experimenting with rainbows using different objects or different sources of light.

  1. What happens if you use a different shaped object, like a square glass?
  2. What happens if you move your object closer or further from the rainbow? How does this change what you see?
  3. What happens if you use a different colour of light? Add a drop of food colouring to your glass of water…what happens to your rainbow?!

Share your discoveries with us!

You can share your discoveries with us! Take a photo of your surprise rainbows, or the rainbows you have created and tag us at #SparkLabQM on Facebook or Instagram.

CHANGING COMMUNITIES. CHANGING LIVES.

For decades across the Queensland Museum Network, hundreds of volunteers have generously given their time and knowledge to ensure visitors to our museums enjoy an experience to remember.

This year for National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the theme, “Changing Communities. Changing Lives”. We know our volunteers do exactly that, with visitors often speaking of the lasting impression left after an encounter or tour with a ‘volly’.

This year we would like to say thank you, and acknowledge the generous contribution of all volunteers by sharing a few favourite memories from across our campuses.

Marylin Jensen OAM, volunteer at Cobb+Co Museum in Toowoomba.

Cobb+Co Museum

Marilyn Jensen OAM has been volunteering at Cobb+Co Museum for over a year now. After retiring, Marilyn thought it would be an opportunity to promote craft skills that are simple to do, and encourage others to have a go or join a group in their local area.

“My favourite time at Cobb+Co Museum is every time I’m there, as every day brings new questions and people asking them,” she says.

“It’s the pleasure of helping someone else know and learn something new.

“It’s a pleasure to show someone how a natural fibre is processed to a useful garment, and encouraging people to have a go and be happy, and enjoy life and our wonderful community groups and museum.”

Kyle Harmer, volunteer at The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich.

The Workshops Rail Museum

Kyle Harmer started out at The Workshops Rail Museum as a volunteer two years ago. Graduating to a Visitor Service Officer within a year, Kyle still also volunteers his time as one of the Museum’s expert model builders, working on the museum’s model railway – the largest of its kind, depicting scenes from Queensland’s extensive rail network.

Kylie has many great memories from his time volunteering at the museum, but one that stands out in particular.

“Whilst rejuvenating the model one day a young visitor came up to me and said ‘that’s what I want to do when I grow up!’”.

“That was really cool.”

Mike Saw, volunteer at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

Museum of Tropical Queensland

Mike Whiting started volunteering at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2001. He said while there have been many changes of staff, displays and volunteers over the years, a very significant change has been the introduction of special and in-depth training given to help volunteers present stories accurately and confidently to visitors of the museum.

“I have so many memories but probably my favourite was confidently giving my first and special talk on the “Three Incredible Small Boat Stories,” he said. 

“What makes being a volunteer worthwhile is just being able to help our visitors understand more about of all the museum’s diverse displays, which cover topics such as maritime history, palaeontology, biodiversity and marine biology!

“It is such a wide range of topics and it’s all important information that is relevant to North Queensland.”

Janice Neill, volunteer at Queensland Museum in Brisbane.

Queensland Museum

Janice Neill has been a volunteer with Queensland Museum since 2012, when the museum celebrated 150 years of connecting and collecting.

“We now have extra space to host larger exhibitions, but staff still have the same dedication to share their enormous wealth of knowledge with volunteers and visitors,” she said. 

Janet has many fond memories from travelling exhibitions and displays, but also appreciates the smaller, simple moments inside the museum’s walls.

“Every day is an exciting day talking to the school groups in the Discovery Centre and recently the Discovery Day for Little Learners.”

If you would like to become a volunteer at any of our campuses, please complete the online Volunteer Expression of Interest form.

Grindstone – ancient multi-tools

Marisa Giorgi, Information Officer, Queensland Museum

Grindstones are a relatively common tool found across Australia. But did you know grindstones have many varied uses? Archaeological science is revealing the complex nature of these stone artefacts.

Introduction

At Queensland Museum, we have many of grindstones of different shapes and sizes, from across Queensland. These grindstones represent durable examples of everyday items used by Indigenous Australian people.  They are also integral components of the archaeological puzzle that helps us understand our past.

Grindstone, flat sedimentary rock with striations and polish on one side.

What’s a grindstone?

A grindstone is usually a large flat sandstone rock (abrasive rock) that is used with a suitable top stone, or muller. They form an efficient tool to grind or crush food to release nutrients. An important role was grinding of seeds to make flour for bread. This usually required a flatter top stone. There were many other uses which sometimes involved a smaller more rounded top stone called a pounder. This served to crack open seeds, break bones to extract the marrow, pound plant fibres to make string and grind ochre to create different pigment colours. Sometimes the process was dry grinding and other times using water. Essentially their main use of grindstones was for processing food.

Grindstones can be identified by their shape and wear patterns. Some are deeply abraded, with surfaces often worn smooth from extended use. They were mostly found where Aboriginal people lived and processed food. Grindstones were sometimes heavy (up to 14kg or more) so they were not always convenient to carry. The largest grindstones often remained at certain location for extended periods. Grindstones did wear out, and many areas lack suitable sandstone outcrops to create new ones. A grindstone trade network existed, and some of the recently located production areas are so large that they indicate an extensive and well-developed production for trade. Some areas, including parts of Victoria, seem to have fewer grindstones.

Grindstone – Muller, disc-shaped stone with polishing on one side.

What can they tell us?

We can analyse surfaces of grindstones for traces of plant matter. Because of limited resources this research is only carried out with community permission. Grindstones with a lot of contextual information are generally selected for this research. For this reason it is always important to leave artefacts in situ (In place) when possible. Record the location and report your discovery to the Department of Environment and Heritage so that archaeologists can get the full story behind an object. You can play an important part in preserving Australia’s history.

Grindstone – Muller, rectangular-shaped stone with polishing on multiple sides.

They are not all the same….

In the Museum we have some very specialised grinding stones such as the Morah grinding stone- only found in the Wet Tropics rainforests. This grindstone is made of slate with several parallel grooves incised on its surface to create a processing platform for seeds and nuts. Starch residue analysis on some of these Morahs for provides evidence that the stones are used to process toxic starchy nuts.

Some foods contain toxins which must be released before consumption.  Processing methods included water leeching or washing, and grinding or crushing. Grinding stones also processed plants for medicinal use. Smaller grinding stones were usually used in the production of pigments, crushing different colours of ochre to make a fine powder for the use in painting rock art, for painting on people’s bodies or on objects such as message sticks and shields.

Grindstone technology dates back thousands of years in Australia. Researching them provides us with clues about the food sources that were exploited across different climatic periods. Studies also shed light on the distribution of populations around Australia and how they traded and interacted. Some stones can even be traced to their origins before starting their life as a grindstone. One grindstone recently discovered in the Madjedbebe rock shelter, in Mirrarr Country, in northern Arnhem Land traces grindstone technology back over 60 000 years ago. That is the earliest evidence in the world for grindstones.

Grinding food, herbs and spices between two stones is still carried out today in many traditional communities. Indeed the mortar and pestle remains a popular tool in plenty of modern kitchens. Grindstones are still relevant to indigenous communities today, offering another connection to country and culture. At the Queensland Museum we have procedures in place to facilitate people visiting and reconnecting with their significant objects.

As we have many archaeological artefacts uploaded to our Collections Online web pages, you can start exploring some of the grindstones from the collection here.

Looking through the Glass

Dave Parkhill, Assistant Collection Manager

Clear as Glass?

Glass was used throughout the Roman world, with various applications and methods of manufacturing, and with colours ranging from an almost clear, pale green to vivid blues or other bright colours.

This rare core-formed alabastron (circa 3rd to 4th C BCE) is so named as earlier forms were made of alabaster. This bottle would have been used to hold perfume and the two small lugs were probably used for attaching a stopper in the neck. (© Queensland Museum, Peter Waddington)

A Dubious Origin Story

Glass objects, mainly in the form of simple glass beads have been dated to approximately the 3rd millenium BCE, but it was not until approximately a thousand years later that the first glass vessels emerged in Syria and Mesopotamia, an area that now makes up Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey and Iran.  One historical, albeit fanciful, explanation as to the origin of glass was recounted by Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian from the first century CE. In book 36 of his Natural History, Pliny gives a somewhat serendipitous account of how a Phoenician trading vessel, loaded with nitre, or potassium nitrate, was moored on the banks of the Belus River. The merchants were preparing their evening meal on the beach, and, not having any rocks to support their cooking pots, they turned to using large pieces of their cargo.  The nitre melted and fused with the beach sand and as the entire concoction cooled and hardened, glass was formed.  This theory has been generally discounted as the high temperatures needed to create glass would not be supplied by a simple cooking fire. 

Used for holding perfumed oils for anointing the body, this double balsarium (circa 3rd – 4th century CE) still has its looped handle intact – a rarity due to its fragile nature. (© Queensland Museum Peter Waddington)

Delicate glass bangles (circa 2nd cent CE) such as this indicate a life of relative ease and luxury. (© Queensland Museum, Peter Waddington)

Three Methods of Manufacture

Prior to the 1st century BCE discovery of glass blowing, there were basically two methods of manufacturing glass vessels: slumping and core formed. 

Slumping involved heating a piece of glass, roughly cut to size, over a mould and as the glass softened it would “slump” or drop into the mould. This was used to produce plates or bowls or other open containers.  The resulting product had both a rough exterior and interior, which was then polished smooth; it was at this point that a design could be cut or etched into the glass.  

Core formed glass requires forming a core of clay, or sometimes even animal manure and sand, around a steel rod and then dipping it into molten glass.  Strings of glass could be laid onto, and wrapped around the core.  The outer surface of the vessel was smoothed against a stone while still soft, and if needed, handles or feet could be added at this point.  Once cool, the object, such as this core formed alabastron (image a), was snapped free of the rod and the core removed. 

The third approach to making glass vessels was glass-blowing. The development of glass blowing is generally considered to have occurred sometime towards the end of the first century BCE in Syria, which at that time was a province of Rome.  The Romans came to excel at glass blowing, a technology that allowed them to create objects with far thinner walls, thereby making the product more translucent and allowing for a greater range of designs.  This method was also quicker and less expensive, which in turn gave rise to an increase in productivity, and glassware became more common as everyday items.  To create blown glass, molten glass, known as a “gob” is attached to the end of a blow pipe and air is blown through the pipe by the artisan. As the gob inflates it is shaped and formed by rolling or swinging the blowpipe.  While the glass is still soft, a rod, or pontil, is attached to the base of the object so that it can be held as the blowpipe is removed, and the mouth of the vessel is smoothed and shaped. Items such as this double balsarium (image b) were formed by glass blowing then folding the tube in half and pinching the fold to close each side.  In this example, a glass trail was then added to the upper half and a handle attached.  The chalky white encrustations on the balsarium are the results of the glass deteriorating due to the environment of the soil in which it was buried prior to its archaeological excavation.  

Beautifully blown glass dishes similar to this (circa 4th century CE), were used to serve meats, the well in the base providing a space for marinating oils. (© Queensland Museum Peter Waddington)

Beauty and Function

Glass was not only functional but could also be decorative, as in the case of tesserae for use in mosaics for pavements as well as for walls or ceilings, but also for personal adornment such as bangles (image e) and pendants (image f).  . With the discovery of new techniques, combined with greater skills of the glass makers, Roman glass became more accessible and served a wider range of uses. The advent of glass blowing, made for a thinner walled vessel, increasing its beauty and decreasing its cost.

For more Archaeology Blogs click here.

This delicate amber glass bottle (circa 1st – 3rd century CE) is decorated with a fine a glass trail which spirals its way from the base to the top of the neck. (© Queensland Museum Peter Waddington)

Setting the Table: Archaeology and Food

Marc Cheeseman, Archaeologist/Master’s Student, UQ

In every culture large proportions of time are dedicated to food-related activities, but how can archaeologists investigate this relationship? And what can this information tell us about the development of modern Australia?

Introduction

From the 19th century to World War I, minerals (mostly gold) made up roughly one third of yearly Australian exports. During this time, as the economy expanded with the spread of pastoralism, agriculture, and various gold rushes, large-scale immigration became necessary to satisfy the increasing demand for workers. Spurred on by these economic opportunities people arrived from many European countries, as well as America, and the southern provinces of China, all living and working together at various mining settlements in what must have been thoroughly difficult conditions. Despite this, most archaeological interest in gold mining sites, particularly in Queensland, has focussed on equipment and industrial activities, rather than the people who used that equipment. Recent excavations at Ravenswood, a gold mining town in northern Queensland that boomed in the 1860s/1870s and just prior to World War I, allow us to explore social aspects of an important period in the development of modern Queensland and Australia by looking at archaeological food remains; in this case animal bones.

Food and Identity?

So, how does food reflect culture and identity? And more importantly, for our purposes, how can we look at food archaeologically? Every individual needs the same basic nutrients: carbohydrates, vitamins, proteins and minerals. Across time and space, however, human societies have developed an impressively wide variety of approaches in order to fulfil these basic biological needs, and in utilising these approaches people have developed certain food preferences. To save time let’s call a given society’s food preferences, which are selected from a narrow range of available materials constrained by geography and historical circumstances, that society’s ‘cuisine’. Unfortunately there is still more to it. For a long time anthropologists have considered food to have very deep cultural significance; it is much more than a simple biological necessity. For a few brief examples, food emphasises certain times of the year by helping mark holidays and special occasions. Even our weekly (and daily!) routines are frequently punctuated by discussions within individual households, and/or larger social groups, that focus almost exclusively on the consumption of food (broadly defined to include alcoholic beverages). There is a reason that the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ holds so much meaning.

Food and Identity? …And Archaeology?

Notably, it is the repeated nature of these ‘food practices’ (behaviours associated with preparing and consuming food) that makes them archaeologically visible. People persistently create characteristic waste associated with their specific food preferences, or cuisine, and we can (sometimes) locate this rich deposit of decomposing data in order to help us understand the daily lives of people from past societies. Geography and history, however, are not the only influences that shape how an individual interacts with their society’s cuisine (there’s still more to it!). Other considerations need to be taken into account, such as an individual’s social class, gender, ethnicity, and age, among others. A rural farmer, for example, does not eat the same food as a wealthy merchant from the same society and region. Even if they are consuming the same animals and vegetables (their range of choices is somewhat limited by geography and history, of course), they would likely be eating different cuts of meat, and/or have different preparation methods. Nevertheless, there are ways of utilising this archaeological food waste to help us understand social differentiation (or ‘group identity’) in the past.

So How Is It Done?

For historical sites such as Ravenswood this involves bringing together a wide array of historical documents (advertisements and articles in newspapers, personal journals, photographs, etc.) and combining that information with the evidence taken directly from the ground: the bones. Other associated archaeological material, such as ceramics and bottles, can help paint a picture of the wider consumption patterns of sauces, drinks and preserved foods—they can also provide crucial information about when the material was used and subsequently thrown away.

For the bones themselves, many previous studies across the world have shown that analysing archaeological food remains can provide much more than a short list of animals that people were eating. For example, identifying which species appear in the skeletal evidence, and then comparing this group with the list of available species for the settlement (taken from historical documents), can tell us about dietary choices and how the people in the town were expressing their societal and group identity. Similarly, identifying which body parts of each species appear in the skeletal evidence (the complete skeleton, or only one leg, etc.) can tell us about the town’s butchering practices. This information can of course tell us about cuisine and social formation, but it can also provide economic and social information about how transport and infrastructure (government funded railways, bridges, etc.) impacted daily life. Additionally, identifying ‘age at death’ patterns for each species can offer insight into whether an animal population was raised mainly for their primary product (i.e. meat), or their secondary product (e.g. wool or milk).

Bringing Home the Bacon

Taken together, this kind of information can start to paint a more personal picture of what daily life was like for the people of Ravenswood, the majority of whom are almost completely absent from the historical records of the period. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the stories that come out of Ravenswood feed into the much larger and ongoing story of the development of modern Australia. Who are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? Historical archaeology at sites like Ravenswood can help answer these questions. There’s more than gold in them thar hills.

Further reading:

Lawrence, S. 2000 Dolly’s Creek : an archaeology of a Victorian goldfields community. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press

Orser, C.E. 2014 A primer on modern-world archaeology. Clinton Corners, New York: Eliot Werner Publications, Inc.

Pilcher, J.M. 2017 Food in world history (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Twiss, K. 2019 The archaeology of food: identity, politics, and ideology in the prehistoric and historic past. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Birds of the lost arcs

By Dr Paul Oliver, Curator of Vertebrates at Queensland Museum

Occasionally at night as my family are sitting down to eat our dinner or doing the dishes, we hear a low, repetitive, booming, noise from somewhere outside. This noise is very easy to overhear, and dismiss as part of the background hubbub of suburbia. And the bird which makes this noise is also easy to overlook. Until you see it. And then it is unmistakable.

It is the frogmouth. Frogmouths spend their days perched motionless and doing a damn fine impersonation of a tree stump. But when startled they reveal themselves to be large birds with comical eyes and gigantic gaping beaks.  At night they come to life hunting insects and other small animals.

Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides. Image by Bruce Cowell.

In suburbia in Australia we have the Tawny Frogmouth. But this is just one of 13 odd species in that occur across Australia, New Guinea and tropical Asia. In many ways the Tawny Frogmouth is the outlier in the group. It has a wide distribution across open woodlands and savannahs. But the vast majority of other frogmouths are restricted to tropical rainforests, and some such as Solomon’s Frogmouth are very rare.

Where from frogmouth?

Amongst bird scientists, Australia is famous as a source area for the early evolution of some the world’s most distinctive birds. As you sit in your garden (as you may have been doing at lot more than normal of late) and watch honeyeaters, lorikeets or crested pigeons – you are looking at recent iterations from lineages that have very long histories in our region, going back tens of millions of years. Indeed, in the case of honeyeaters, they are early offshoots on a lineage of songbirds that moved out of Australia over 20 million years ago, through Asia, and went on to become the most diverse group of birds in the entire world.

So where does the frogmouth sit in this story? When and how did they move between Australia and Asia? In a paper recently published in the journal Biology Letters we try to address that question, and the answer is not simple.

Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides. Image by Jeff Wright.

In this work we generated genetic data for all three living genera (think of these as major evolutionary groupings) of frogmouths – Batrachostomus from Asia, Podargus from Australia and New Guinea, and Rigidipenna from the Solomon Islands. We then used this molecular data to estimate their evolutionary relationships and timeframes of separation.

Our analyses of genetic divergences across the three living genera of Frogmouths suggest they diverged around 30 million years ago. While molecular dating is an imprecise art, the splits between frogmouth genera are amongst the oldest estimated between bird lineages occurring in Australia and Asia. To put this in broader context, 30 million years ago Australia was separated from Asia by a wide ocean and had a very different (more temperate) climate. Making the jump between regions would be been challenging, especially for birds like frogmouths that tend to be fairly ‘stay-at-home’, and are probably disinclined to fly over hundreds of kilometres of open ocean. So how did they do it?

Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides. Image by Bruce Cowell.

The two-part tale of the frogmouth?

Our theory to explain how frogmouths made this jump has two parts. The first involves answering the question: which way did frogmouths jump? From Asia to Australia, or Australia to Asia?

There is a lot about the evolutionary history of frogmouths we don’t know, but they have been nice enough to leave us a few clues about where their early evolution occurred. Surprisingly, it’s neither Australia nor Asia where frogmouths live today, but North America and Europe! And while the Australian bird fossil record has major gaps, what information scientists have collected provides no evidence that frogmouths have a long history here. This hints at the answer to the first bit of the frogmouth story – they probably came from north, moving from Europe to Asia, and then into Australia.

The second part of the question then becomes, how did they make this jump across the oceans between the (then widely separated) landmasses of Asia and Australia?

A hint to the answer of this question comes from the aforementioned rare and unique frogmouth of the Solomon Islands. Our analyses indicate the ancestors of the Solomon’s Frogmouth diverged from all other living frogmouth 30 million years ago. This remarkably deep divergence suggests that frogmouths have also been in the south-west Pacific for a long time. Many models of geology also suggest that island arcs have been forming and moving across the south-west Pacific for over 35 million years. Some of these models even suggest there may have a chain of islands over a 1000 kilometres long.

So our theory is that frogmouths may have used ancient island arc systems, to first move out Asia, and then as staging grounds for subsequent colonisation of Australia.

Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides. Image by Gary Cranitch.

Resolving the history of a remarkable biota

There is a lot more water to go under this bridge. Many scientists remain sceptical about the roles of island arcs in the Australasian bird story. Conversely, some of us have argued that the role of island arcs in shaping the evolution of the Australian animals and plants has been systematically overlooked.

Certainly, different groups of birds and other animals will tell different stories and their remain great uncertainties. But these discoveries and hypotheses set the stage for new chapters in the story of understanding how Australia’s remarkable biota was assembled.

And on a more day-to-day level, next time a frogmouth lands on your clothesline, take a step back and think of the remarkable 30 million year journey its ancestors may have taken to get there.

We are custodian of Queensland's natural and cultural heritage, caring for more than a million items and specimens in collections that tell the changing story of Queensland.