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Geophysical Prospection for Late Holocene Burials in Coastal Environments: Possibilities and Problems from a Pilot Study in South Australia

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date09/2010
JournalGeoarchaeology
Journal number5
Volume25
Pages645-665
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Geophysical techniques have been widely employed for the noninvasive location of burial sites in archaeological and forensic investigations. This approach has met with varying degrees of success, depending on factors such as equipment choice, survey methodology, burial type, and geological setting. This paper reports the results of a multitechnique geophysical survey carried out immediately prior to the salvage excavation of two Indigenous burials from an eolian dune in coastal South Australia. Ground-penetrating radar was not successful in defining the location of the burials owing to the disturbed nature of the local stratigraphy. Magnetic field intensity and apparent magnetic susceptibility surveys identified discrete anomalies that coincided with the location of skeletal material revealed during excavation, which we hypothesize to be due to burning or ochre use during funerary practices. Despite the spatial association of these features, subsequent laboratory analyses of the mineralogy and magnetic properties of sediments collected from the site failed to find a definite cause of the anomalies. Nevertheless, the association between them and the primary interment locations has implications for archaeological surveys carried out in the Australian coastal zone, as it highlights the potential of magnetic field intensity and apparent magnetic susceptibility geophysical techniques undertaken with a more refined survey methodology to afford a noninvasive, culturally appropriate means through which to detect Indigenous burials. This approach may prove particularly useful in areas with disturbed stratigraphy where ground-penetrating radar is less effective. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.