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Mount Stromlo Observatory Indigenous Sites

Place Identification Number


Site Category

Indigenous Site

Site Type

Isolated Finds


Mount Stromlo Observatory, Block 38 District of Stromlo.  Cotter Road, ACT

ANU Heritage Classification

Low Conservation Value



Australian National University (This refers only to the ownership of the property, all Indigenous artefacts remain the property of the relevant Indigenous community)

Heritage Listings

ACT Heritage Register – 20140

Indigenous Site Types

There are a number of different site types that are indicative of the lifestyle and activities of the Indigenous inhabitants of Australia.  Locative and descriptive information about the various site types have potential to inform about regional pattern of past Indigenous land-use practices and settlement patterns.  Some of the major site types found in Australia include:

  • Open Site/Open Artefact Scatter: These sites generally consist of scatters of stone artefacts and may be associated with hearths.  These sites are found in a variety of landscape zones especially near creeks and waterways, hill slopes, open plains and crest ridges and saddles.  Open sites are susceptible to disturbance and vegetation cover and thus can be difficult to locate.
  • Isolated Finds: An artefact found in isolation at an arbitrary distance from another artefact (usually 30 to 50 metres).  These sites can represent random loss, intentional discard or may be the only visible remains of a disturbed artefact scatter.  Occurring anywhere in the landscape they are susceptible to the same damage as open sites.
  • Quarry: This is usually an exposure of raw stone material that shows evidence of human extraction or processing.  These sites are reliant on the availability of a suitable raw material source.
  • Scarred Tree: Scars are formed through the removal of bark from trees in the particularly for bark shelters, canoes and shields.  Remnant mature trees from original vegetation are the most likely source of such scars.
  • Midden: An accumulation of debris resulting from human use and discard.  In coastal regions middens are usually composed of mainly of shell material.
  • Rock Art Galleries: Indigenous mythological paintings may be found all over Australia and represent many different cultures.  Although many were made for ceremonial purposes, there are undoubtedly also markings just done for fun, like hand stencils and outlines of boomerangs.  Some paintings are very ancient, executed many thousands of years ago. But not all paintings need to be that old; some were made within living memory.
  • Potential Archaeological Deposits (PAD): These are deposits, generally associated with rock shelters and aggrading landforms.  They do not show identifiable archaeological material, but may contain sub-surface material.  Potential archaeological deposits are identified by their context, that is, an association with a landscape feature generally exploited in the past.

Stone Artefact Types and Definitions

There are many types of stone artefact that are found on Indigenous sites throughout Australia and some of the more common types and their defining features are below:

  • Unretouched Flakes:Pieces of stone that have been struck off another piece of stone and ideally possess platforms, positive bulbs of percussion, concentric ripples, ring cracks and /or eraillure scars on the ventral surface.
  • Retouched Flake:Essentially flaked flakes.  They are identified by the presence of negative scars that must have been created after the ventral surface of the flake had been created.  There will be either negative scars on either the ventral or dorsal surface, which have been formed by the flake being hit on the ventral surface.
  • Flaked Piece:Stone artefacts that have been formed by knapping but cannot be identified as either a core or a flake.
  • Core:Pieces of stone that have one or more negative scars and the absence of positive flake scars.
  • Edge Ground Axes: Artefacts that have been shaped by the process of flaking, pecking and polishing.  They generally have only one working edge that has been ground to a sharp margin although occasionally they may have two leading edges.
  • Grindstones: Characterised by a worn and abraded surface or surfaces.  There also may be a concave surface.
  • Hammerstone:Have use-wear on the surface in the form of the abrasion, pitting, edge fracturing with some negative scarring.
  • Manuports: Stone material that are not found naturally in an area and must have been carried in by humans
  • Cortex: The cortex is the external surface of the original piece of stone that is used to create artefacts.  The amount of cortex remaining on a flake (either unretouched, retouched or piece) can be used to help classify the flakes.  Primary cortex flakes are those whose dorsal surfaces are entirely covered with cortex; secondary cortex flakes have at least a trace of cortex on the dorsal surface; and tertiary (interior) flakes lack cortex, having derived entirely from the interior of the core.  Primary flakes and secondary flakes are usually associated with the initial stages of lithic reduction.

Physical Description

MSO0001:This find consists of an isolated, complete silcrete unretouched flake.  The artefact has a tertiary cortex (none) and is white in colour.


MSO0002:This find consists of an isolated, complete chert unretouched flake.  The artefact has a tertiary cortex (none) and is grey in colour.

Statements of Significance

The ACT Indigenous communities consider all archaeological evidence of the past occupation of the ACT by Indigenous people to be significant.  Indigenous sites have the capacity to demonstrate and provide information about ways in which Indigenous people lived in the past.  These places are part of a regional body of evidence that has potential to reveal information about patterns of past Indigenous land-use and settlement.  Details of the site locations and descriptive information about them build upon and complement the considerable body of archaeological research that exists for the Canberra region.


These places are all part of the physical evidence of a traditional way of life that is no longer practised within the ACT.  Stone was an extremely important element of Indigenous culture, essential to day-to-day life.  The presence of artefact scatters in these localities demonstrates past occupation and use of these places by Indigenous people whereas an isolated stone artefact is a more tenuous indication of Indigenous use of a place.  Stone artefacts thus constitute an enduring record of Indigenous technology and settlement patterns.  The individual artefacts at the sites also have significance due to their potential to contribute to research about Aboriginal stone technology.


Areas of identified archaeological potential are considered to be significant cultural resources because of their potential to contain buried evidence of past Indigenous occupation, likely to be intact and in better condition than other surface exposed sites.


The significance of artefact scatters may be thus ranked from low to high according to their value to Indigenous people, their archaeological value and their condition and integrity.  Their significance to Indigenous people may not necessarily, however, relate to or accord with archaeological significance assessments.

Conservation Documents

Faulkner, P. (2004): An Archaeological Survey and Cultural heritage Impact Assessment, Mount Stromlo, ACT.  Report to ANUgreen, Australian National University.


Consultation Requirements

  • ACT Heritage
  • Indigenous Communities located in and around the ACT

Cross-References to Other Records

EJLF0001 Edith and Joy London Foundation Axe-grinding Grooves

SVF0001-SVF0004 – Spring Valley Farm Indigenous Sites

Links to External Agencies

ACT Heritage Register 

Indigenous Heritage in Australia