Over 5,000 items of our Cultures & Histories collection are now accessible online for free. All you need is your device and a little bit of inspiration to explore Queensland’s cultural and natural heritage.
Explore Queensland Museum Network’s extensive Archaeology Collection and discover the research that enhances our understanding of people’s deep history.
Queensland Museum Network engages in archaeological research to generate and share information about the past, from the deep history of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the more recent past.
Artefacts from Queensland's First Nations communities form the largest group of artefacts within the collection with some sites dating back tens of thousands of years. The archaeology collections contain some of the oldest artefacts within the museum including stone axes that are older than 100,000 years. The collections also span land and sea including artefacts from some of Australia’s most significant shipwrecks.
We also have many amazing objects from ancient overseas cultures including Ancient Roman, Egyptian and Cypriot communities.
The more recent western past is represented through our historical archaeology assemblages.
Historical Archaeology can generate new information and supports or occasionally counters, accepted histories of Queensland’s recent past by providing insights into the lives of peoples through the materials and items left behind in conjunction with letters, diaries and photographs.
This includes information and artefacts from the recent past which challenge the common narrative that the process of European colonisation saw a peaceful occupation and transition to European rule.
Archaeology plays a significant role in Collections and Research in Queensland Museum, with the preservation of items of significant cultural heritage alongside documentation and photographs.
Archaeology is the study of human history through the excavation of sites and the detailed analysis of artefacts and other physical remains.
Archaeology studies human society by analysing its material remnants. These include small objects (‘artefacts’), like stone flakes, pottery, coins, or glass bottles, to larger objects like entire buildings or entire towns. Other remnants include landscape alterations, such as art on a cave wall, or the irrigation channels of an early farming community. Archaeology can tell us about the many diverse aspects of people's lives. It can provide a variety of perspectives and highlight the diversity of people's different cultural backgrounds. Each type of object or place provides different information about the people who used or created it. By weaving together these separate strands of information, archaeologists can assemble amazing stories and detailed accounts of human societies.
There are several different types of archaeological collections held by Queensland Museum.
The First Nations collections speak to the rich and diverse deep-time cultural heritage of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia.
Historical Archaeology globally, focuses on the last 500-600 years of our history, researching the physical archaeological record in conjunction with documentary (written), photographic and oral historical records including eyewitness accounts of the past. Queensland’s Historical Archaeology focusses on the past 400 years, from when Asian and European explorers and merchants first visited our shores, interacting and documenting their contact with First Nations people. Historical archaeologists also focus on even more recent history, studying the social and technological changes impacting Queenslanders after significant events such as the First and Second World Wars.
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The Queensland Museum Network archaeology collection comprises 200,000 artefacts from 1,386 archaeological sites. The majority of these (1,375) are from Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander sites. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archaeological collections are drawn from a variety of locations across the state. Major site types include rock shelters, shell middens and stone artefact scatters. The archaeological collection is regularly accessed by researchers from Australia and all over the world.
First Nations collections
Queensland Museum holds many archaeological sites from Queensland. One significant First Nations Archaeology Collection is from a cave which was part of the Country of the Brown River and Karingbal (ka-ring-bal) Peoples and the Bidjara (bid-jara) People. In the early 1960’s when Kenniff Cave was excavated, Aboriginal occupation of the continent was considered by scientists to be only a few thousand years old. But, when charcoal samples from John Mulvaney and Bernie Joyce's 1960’s excavations were sent to England in an Arnotts Biscuit tin for radiocarbon dating, it revealed that many generations of families had lived there for over 20,000 years. At the time of excavation, this was the earliest known occupation site on the continent. The stone artefact innovations identified in the rich archaeological assemblage were essential in deconstructing the myth that Aboriginal culture was unchanging. The excavation marked the beginning of a new era in research into the Aboriginal past.
Torres Strait Island collections
The archaeology collection also contains significant archaeological material from Zenadth Kez (the Torres Strait Islands). This includes the Murray Islands Archaeological Project (MIAP), which was conducted with community support and participation. These excavations revealed pottery sherds, the first to be recovered from the Torres Strait and show evidence of pre-European trade links between the Torres Strait and New Guinea. Stone artefacts, personal adornments including a broken shell pendant (dibi-dibi), food remains, and clay pipe fragments have also been excavated from the Islands.
NOTE: Accessing the First Nations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island) collections
Queensland Museum has adopted new guidelines to support collection access following consultation and feedback from First Nations communities. These guidelines are important in protecting and maintaining the Cultural Safety of Australian First Nation Community Members, Queensland Museum staff, members of the public, and researchers who wish to access these objects for a variety of reasons. Queensland Museum respects the rights of all First Nations Peoples of Australia, whose objects are housed within its general collection. Ensuring open and easy access to the State Collection remains at the heart of who we are.
For more information, please see our Letter of Advice
NOTE: First Nations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island) Archaeological collection closure
From February 2022 until early 2025, there will be temporary access changes to part of the Queensland Museum collection in order to design and construct high-tech clean rooms and facilitate major infrastructure improvements across our collection storage facilities.
Loans of First Nations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island) archaeological objects and specimens for research or exhibitions, from the main collection area at the Queensland Museum Collections and Research Centre (CRC), Hendra, will be halted during this period and we will also be unable to host visitors and researchers in the main collection area during this time (i.e., service requests from the community to access collections).
For more information, please see Collections loans.
Historical Archaeology collections
The museum also holds a small collection of 25 historical archaeological sites. These represent some of the ‘newer’ items in the archaeology collections, relating to European occupation of the continent. The collection comprises over 25,000 artefacts. These are drawn from around the state and include two overseas Chinese (or Chinatown) sites from north Queensland, as well as two transitory camp sites in western Queensland associated with the Shearers’ Strike of 1891. There are also materials from a range of industrial, government and refuse disposal sites from Brisbane, including the convict-built Tower Mill. A standout assemblage within this collection was acquired from the Commissariat Store. This building is one of Queensland’s oldest buildings, dating to the earliest convict period.
The museum holds a small collection of antiquities (ca 900 objects) that includes artefacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Cyprus. These were collected, donated, purchased or exchanged since the 1870's. Queensland Museum Network also holds a collection of stone and organic objects from the European Neolithic and Palaeolithic.
Book of the Dead
The collection includes an Egyptian funerary papyrus roll, Amenhotep’s Book of the Dead, which is one of the most significant items in the collection. This was made to order for Amenhotep, who lived over 3,000 years ago. Amenhotep was a high-ranking official who directed construction projects at the Karnak temple complex at Thebes. Other parts of this extensive manuscript are held by the British Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), and several smaller institutions.
The museum’s archaeology staff are engaged in several diverse research projects, using different aspects of the archaeology collections. Current projects involve First Nations material culture (anthropology) collections, First Nations and Historical archaeological collections and the antiquities collections.
Sugarbag and Shellfish (2019-2023) – Australian Research Council Grant
The project traces the role of Indigenous food, labour and knowledge in cultural exchanges between Aboriginal people and settler-colonists in northern and central Cape York Peninsula. It is based on long term collaborations between Aboriginal Custodians of Countries between Weipa and Lockhart River, and academic researchers at the University of New England, Flinders University, and Macquarie University. The project is supported and facilitated by the Western Cape Communities Trust, the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council, the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation and Queensland Museum.
WW1 Antiquities Project
A collaboration between Queensland Museum and R.D. Milns Antiquities Museum, this project will both locate, research and publish information about antiquities brought back as souvenirs by Queensland service personnel during the First World War and tell the stories of the service men and women who collected them. The project seeks to understand both the appeal of finding souvenirs during the war period, and the reasons for bringing them back to Australia. To date, approximately sixty artefacts from nine collections originally belonging to twelve personnel have been identified. These artefacts range from small curios such as scarabs and coins, through to mosaics and larger sculptures. Many artefacts are of Egyptian origin, acquired in situ while personnel were either training or convalescing. Other artefacts were acquired during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915-1918), or by the signalmen of the ANZAC wireless corps stationed in Mesopotamia between 1916 and 1919.
A collaboration between Queensland Museum and several Australian and International institutions and universities, this ARC Centre of Excellence seeks to tell a culturally inclusive, globally significant human and environmental history of Australia - Australia’s Epic Story. CABAH research resulted in the Queensland Museum Network exhibition Connections Across the Coral Sea.
Seachange is a synergetic alliance bought together to unlock the richness of oceanic history. Funded by European Research Council (ERC) Synergy Grant, this six-year project will combine interdisciplinary research approaches to quantify the impact of major cultural transitions on marine ecosystem functioning and biodiversity, setting new baselines for understanding ocean environmental change. By understanding how the seas of today are different from the past, we will be able to better manage them for the future.
The Book of the Dead of Amenhotep
A highlight of our collection are fragments from a rare Book of the Dead, a funerary papyrus used to assist the deceased journey to the afterlife. This was commissioned by a high ranking official, Amenhotep, who lived in New Kingdom Egypt. Sections of this book of the Dead are held by leading institutions around the world, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Fugitive Traces: Reconstructing Yulluna experiences of the frontier
Focussing on oral histories held by a prominent Aboriginal family whose history is deeply enmeshed with the Queensland Native Mounted Police, this project aims to consider family history in the broader context of colonial settlement and the complexities of frontier conflict. Through a collaboration of Indigenous peoples, archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, museum curators and educators, the expected outcome will be the first sustained history of a hitherto elusive Aboriginal experience of the frontier. In doing so it will provide fresh insights into a contentious period in Australia’s past. Its chief benefit will be to contribute in a practical way to reconciliation.
Western Yalanji dendroglyph recording
Queensland Museum Network is working with Western Yalanji Traditional Owners, researchers (Flinders University), and industry partners (Wet Tropic Management Authority & Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service) to ‘digitally salvage’ an exceptionally rare, centuries-old dendroglyph located in the trunk of a yellow walnut tree located in remote Far North Queensland near Mt. Windsor. The dendroglyph is the last known carving on the Windsor Plateau and is currently rapidly decaying following the death of the tree. This partnership provides opportunities for partners to test the relevance, feasibility and efficiency of photogrammetry for the collaborative conservation of heritage data and knowledge in a remote context, compared to the conventional fibreglass moulding technique.