protecting cave burials

Ian McNiven (imcniven@ZEN.OCEAN.COM.AU)
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 10:07:48 +1000

I've been undertaking a cultural heritage management investigation of
Aboriginal cave burials in the sandstone mountains of central Queensland
(Australia). Hundreds and possibly 1000s of these sites exist and nearly
all have been desecrated in some way by Europeans over the past 100 years or
so. Needless to say, local Aboriginal people are extremely concerned that
the remains of their ancestors have been, and continue to be, treated in
this way.

The burials consist mostly of small, natural tunnels (often painted with
hand stencils) into which are placed skeletal remains wrapped in bark
(coffins) decorated with elaborate string bindings and ochred bands.
Remains apear to be mostly adult males and children. Some of the bodies are
accompanied by artefacts such as fur rugs and even mummified animals
(totems?). Most burials appear to date to the last 200 years. Apart from
these few bits of info, almost nothing is known about these sites!!

Trying to figure out ways of stopping locals and tourists souveniring these
remains is easier said than done. Many locals are less than sympathetic to
ideas of conservation and recognition of Aboriginal rights.

To date, our conservation plan involves using Aboriginal site officers to
monitor burial sites, zoning areas of national park in terms of tourist
visitation, and preparing educational material. Removal of highly
endangered burials (and museum burials) to a series of keeping places has
also been suggested.

Does anybody else have experience with similar situations?
Dr Ian McNiven
McNiven & Russell
Cultural Heritage Consultants
10 Fanny Street
Moonee Ponds VIC 3039