By Colin MacGillivray
UPGRADES to the Shepparton train line have unearthed significant archaeological finds on Taungurung country near Broadford.
Taungurung Land and Waters Council representatives, working alongside archaeologists, recovered more than 80 artefacts at a site along the train corridor last month.
The Shepparton line works are part of the federal and state-funded Regional Rail Revival project, and will allow V/Line’s new VLocity trains to travel on the line.
Among the artefacts recovered was a hammer stone – an implement used to shape other stone tools.
Taungurung Land and Waters Council head of cultural heritage Francisco Almeida said hammer stones were rare and significant finds.
“Most of the implements that people used traditionally were made of perennial materials like wood, skin and bone, and most of those disappear with time but the stone artefacts survive,” he said.
“Most of the stone artefacts that you find on the landscape – whether it be flakes or the things people used to cut, scrape and pierce – all of them had to be knapped, or broken into smaller pieces to create their shapes.
“It means that a hammer stone is probably one of the most important artefacts, because if you have a good hammer stone you never get rid of it. They were probably one of the most important tools that a person learned how to use in their lifetime.”
Mr Almeida said people often assumed few Aboriginal artefacts remained along train lines because of the ground disturbance, but it was not always the case.
“Everywhere in the world where you have train lines, they usually follow traditional pathways because they are the easiest ways across the landscape. If you have a train line, you’ll find areas where people used to camp on their travels,” he said.
“That is what we are finding, and it enables us to tell the story of Taungurung ancestors in some areas where they camped and were living on the landscape.”
Mr Almeida said the artefacts would be studied by archaeologists before being returned to the Taungurung people.
“We will look at the story of the artefacts. Hammer stones in general are used for breaking rock, but they could also have been used for grinding materials like seeds, plants or ochre,” he said.
“There are a whole range of studies that can be made on hammer stones. If it’s a specific type of raw material that is rare on country, we might try to figure out where it comes from in the landscape – if there’s any geological formation where it might have come from.
“When all of the artefacts have been studied, usually we request that the artefacts come back to Taungurung Land and Waters Council for one year so that we can provide an opportunity for the Taungurung community to have a look at them if they are interested,” he said.
“The end of the process is the repatriation of artefacts back into the ground as close as possible to the original area, but in a place where no development is planned so that they are protected.”
Mr Almeida said it was good to be able to preserve and study the artefacts while allowing the train line upgrade to progress.
“It’s just amazing the amount of information about the past you can get from these artefacts. It helps in creating the picture of past Taungurung use of the landscape,” he said.
“This is an important project for the safety of the rail lines, and Taungurung absolutely supports that. We don’t want derailments or any accidents.
“This work of trying to protect and manage cultural heritage also has importance for the cultural wellbeing of the Taungurung people, who are the descendants of the original makers of the artefacts.”