Australian penny with kangaroo on face dated 1950

Archaeology in Queensland

Queensland has a rich and diverse archaeological history which captures significant moments from time immemorial to more recent European colonisation and settlement.

Archaeology is the study of human history through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains.

Archaeology in Queensland starts with First Nations Peoples. People have lived on Country for countless millennia. Their deep and rich histories, cultures and stories are represented by archaeological sites and objects. Archaeological sites are locations of peoples’ activities on Country. Just some of the archaeological expressions that reveal First Nations lived experiences on Country include shell middens, rock shelters, rock art sites, stone quarries and open sites. Objects found in these places include stone artefacts, animal bones, and plant foods. All of these reflect the activities of peoples from the deep to the more recent past.

First Nations people lived rich, deep and interesting lives for millennia across every part of the land and sea Country we know as contemporary Queensland and its waters. Archaeology tells us that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have lived through vast environmental and cultural changes across our continent, enduring Ice Ages and aridity, all the while managing plant and animal life and sustaining communities. These Ancestors experienced the arid zone wax and wane in extent and intensity. Entire landscapes changed: hunting grounds became the Great Barrier Reef and Moreton Bay. Throughout this environmental change, First Nations communities established trade relationships with people from outside Australia and Queensland, long before Europeans visited Australia and colonised. These amazing stories, are held by First Nations in song, story, art and knowledge systems. Aspects of these changes are documented in the archaeological records left by the Ancestors.

The First Nations archaeological collection is the heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. With Traditional Owner permissions, these collections can be accessed by researchers. We respectfully partner with communities to build effective and respectful relationships with Indigenous people, communities and organisations.

Historical Archaeology

The Queensland Museum's historical archaeology collections contains tens of thousands of artefacts that are directly linked to the significant and often turbulent changes experienced by all Queenslanders in post-colonisation history. These fascinating artefacts are associated with the first documented contacts between First Nations people and Dutch and Asian explorers and merchants from the 17th and 18th centuries right through to the modern period.

The artefacts we collect help us to critique our documented histories, supporting or refuting commonly held assumptions about Queensland's recent past and even uncovering hidden histories. The thousands of artefacts not only document the process of “worlds colliding” but also the significant societal and technological changes associated with the Industrial Revolution and the First and Second World Wars. These massive changes include attitudes towards women’s role in society, relationships between the classes, trade unionism and the impact of new technologies in our lives.

The objects representing Queensland's history range from small, personal artefacts including ceramics, jewellery, bullets, buttons, pottery, coins, glass fragments and bottles through to industrial, farming and mining equipment as well as buildings, entire towns and alterations to landscapes.

Protecting Archaeology

Archaeological heritage is rare, important and needs to be conserved and protected wherever possible. Because of this, legislation at both federal and state levels makes it illegal to disturb this heritage. If you see an object or area that you think might be of archaeological value, make sure that you do not move or alter it. Instead, make detailed notes of its appearance and location, and inform the relevant authority in your area.

In Queensland this is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage - Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. See also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Database and Register. For non-Indigenous archaeological finds, please contact the Department of Environment and Science.


Discover more

Did you know you don't have to come to the museum to see our collection?

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.

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