ARCHAEOLOGY ON CHRISTMAS ISLAND
Archaeology is the study of the past through an analysis of material remains or features. These features can include moveable heritage, such as artefacts and objects, as well as immoveable features such as buildings or the remains of past structures. They can include artefacts found on the ground surface of a site, sub-surface deposits or in the cavities of buildings such as under floor deposits, or roof and wall spaces. Archaeological investigation can make a significant contribution to the understanding of a place’s history and heritage values and help to guide its conservation and interpretation.
NTWA Archaeological Management Guidelines, 2015
Archaeological artefacts on Christmas Island may be found within the settlements, areas where there has been previous human activity (e.g. mining) and accessible areas within the National Park. The type of artefacts which could be found include glass bottles or fragments, ceramics, crockery fragments, buttons, nails, clay pipes, coins, bone fragments, stone artefacts, building materials and clothing including hats/helmets and boots.
If artefacts are found, these should remain on Island, particularly those that are found within the National Park as there are requirements regarding the removal of items from Parks (including plant material, fauna etc.).
‘Souvenir’ collecting of archaeological artefacts or any items associated with heritage places is strongly discouraged, particularly by tourists. Once these artefacts leave the Island, it’s impossible for these to be recorded and returned. In addition, removal of artefacts from National Parks is not permitted nor from private property.
Typically, when archaeological artefacts and features are discovered, it is possible to engage an archaeologist to review and oversee these sites. However, due to Christmas Island’s isolation and lack of expertise in this area on Island; a sensitive and practical approach is required.
Currently, there is no dedicated collecting institution on Christmas Island with the exception of the museum collection at Tai Jin House however this has limited capacities. Therefore until such time there is appropriate storage and collection management, it is recommended that archaeological artefacts are left where found (in-situ).
Agencies such as Parks Australia, Christmas Island Phosphates, the Shire or the Indian Ocean Territories Administration may found artefacts during activities or on land under their responsibility. Again, individuals should be discouraged from ‘souvenir’ collecting. If artefacts are found by agencies, proper recording including location, whether the artefact was part of a scatter or isolated, etc. is required as well as appropriate handling and storage. Ensuring consistent information accompanies these artefacts will contribute to the educational value.
To determine if other options are appropriate, several questions should be asked:
- What is the condition of the artefact?
- Will the artefact likely deteriorate if left where found?
- Where will the artefact be taken to or stored?
- Is there capacity for appropriate storage?
If any artefacts are found and removed, these should be deposited with a representative of the Christmas Island museum collection at Tai Jin House.
Contact the Christmas Island Visitor Information Centre for opening times 08 9164 8382 or https://www.christmas.net.au/contact.html
Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 protects Australia’s nationally and internationally significant natural and cultural heritage places. The Act establishes the National Heritage Register which lists places of natural, Aboriginal and historic significance to the nation and provides the legislative requirements for National Parks. Listed places are protected under the Act which “requires that approval be obtained before any action takes place that could have a significant impact on the national heritage values of a listed place” as well as protections for objects and sites in National Parks.
Further information: https://www.environment.gov.au/epbc
The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 protects Australia’s historic shipwrecks and the ‘relics’ associated with these found in Commonwealth waters. Under the Act it is illegal to disturb or remove items from historic shipwrecks.
Further information: https://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/historic-shipwrecks/laws
Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986
The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 protects national and international cultural property. The Act was established when Australia ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It is illegal under the Act to remove an historic relic from Australia without an export permit.
Further information: https://www.arts.gov.au/what-we-do/cultural-heritage/movable-cultural-heritage
Souvenir collecting by individuals is strongly discouraged.
National Trust of Western Australia, Archaeological Management Guidelines for National Trust of Australia (WA) Places, Leanne Brass, 2015
Godden Mackay Logan, Christmas Island: Heritage Review, DCPs and Development Guidelines (Vols 1-3), 1998
 NTWA Guidelines, p 16
 http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/heritage/about-australias-heritage/national-heritage/ [Accessed 29 January 2014]
 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/hsa1976235/ [Accessed 29 January 2014]
The Burra Charter: Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, 2013
Western Australian Museum
Phone: 1300 134 081
Australian Archaeological Association Inc.
National Museum of Australia
Phone: 1800 026 132
All information contained in this general guide has been provided in good faith with current resources and best practice. This information should be considered general only; specific queries or concerns should be directed to the Shire of Christmas Island or the Indian Ocean Territories Administration.