The diverse and innovative approaches to faunal analysis and challenges to an international audience


In May 2014, the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia hosted a three-day symposium showcasing the current zooarchaeological research in Australia. The symposium was attended by over 50 participants from 12 different national and international institutions, including La Trobe University, the University of Wollongong, Flinders University, the Australian National University, University of Western Australia, University of New England, Griffiths University, Sydney University, the University of Queensland and Monash University. Following the symposium, a special volume of Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports was published in 2015, which showed the diverse and innovative approaches to faunal analysis, as well as the various challenges relevant to a broad international audience.

News from the south: Current perspectives in Australian zooarchaeology  

Tiina Manne (Volume Editor of JAS: Reports Zooarch volume), the University of Queensland, Australia


Zooarchaeology, the study of animal remains recovered from ancient and historical archaeological sites, is a powerful means for understanding past human behaviour. Faunal analysis is considered a fundamental aspect of world archaeology that adds significantly to the core objectives of archaeological research. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in Australia.  Part of the limited focus on faunal analysis in Australia is no doubt a result of the challenging environmental conditions for bone preservation found over a large portion of the continent. Such challenging conditions, however, are not found in all areas of Australia and we argue that the lack of focus on zooarchaeological research in Australia is due to a combination of factors. These include a shortage of available tertiary training in zooarchaeology; poor access by archaeologists to modern and comprehensive reference collections and databases; as well as limited publications detailing methodological and quantitative techniques crafted to suit Australia’s unique archaeological sites and environmental conditions.

In this volume, we present research of a number of Australian-based zooarchaeologists engaged in developing discipline methods and our understanding of hunter-forager technology and subsistence. A considerable portion of the volume is dedicated to work unravelling site-formation processes through the use of innovative methods, however other papers focus on developing methodology and exploring the role of ethnography in understanding past human behaviour. By showcasing current zooarchaeological research we hope that others will be encouraged to pursue additional faunal studies documenting the unique archaeological record of Australia.

Fish bone midden

An example of fish bone midden from a western Torres Strait site. This bone is from Tigershark Rockshelter

[ Marshall I. Weisler and Ian J. McNiven 2016. Four thousand years of western Torres Strait fishing in the Pacific-wide context. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 7 (2016) 764–774 in Special section on “News from the south: current perspectives in Australian zooarchaeology” ; Guest Edited by Tiina Manne, Jane Balme and Marshall Weisler.]


Dr Tiina Manne is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at the University of Queensland. Tiina’s research is largely based in archaeological sites of northern Australia, where she uses the analyses of archaeofaunas to reconstruct human subsistence behaviour and animal community structure during large-scale climate change.