Anaiwan People are using 3D Models to Manage their Heritage

The traditional country of the Anaiwan People covers over three-quarters of a million hectares on the Northern Tablelands, in Australia’s New England region.  Anaiwan land is situated in the high-elevation region west of the Great Dividing Range, and includes a diverse range of sclerophyll forests and small high-elevation montane lakes, referred to locally as lagoons.  Neighbouring groups on the coast would traditionally come to Anaiwan country on the Tablelands for ceremony. 

Anaiwan Country (Armidale, NSW) by Jack Higgins

Many Anaiwan people appeared as extras in the famous movie The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, filmed partly on the Tablelands in Anaiwan country.  The award-winning documentary film Rola (the Anaiwan word for stone) juxtaposes Anaiwan cultural understanding with the scientific knowledge of geologists.  The University of New England (UNE)—the home of the Museum of Stone Tools—is located in Armidale, in the heart of Anaiwan country.

Legislation in New South Wales requires impacts to cultural heritage to be properly managed.  Stone artefacts are abundant right across the New England—testament to many thousands of years of Anaiwan presence—and these must be dealt with in a culturally-appropriate manner before development projects can proceed.  The burden on the Anaiwan for cultural heritage compliance work has increased substantially in recent years with the establishment of the New England Renewable Energy Zone and the construction of massive solar and wind farms across the Tablelands.

The Anaiwan People strongly believe that stone artefacts should remain on the landscape to maintain that physical link between the living Anaiwan culture and their ancestors.  In cases where development cannot avoid stone artefacts, they are collected by Anaiwan technicians under New South Wales permit and briefly stored until they can be returned to a safe location on-country.  Usually a brief inventory of the the artefacts is prepared before repatriation to country, but dissatisfaction with simple lists led to an initiative where a sample of these artefacts were modelled using 3D photogrammetry at UNE before the artefacts were taken back to where they belong.  We believe that this is the first time that 3D artefact modelling has been integrated directly into the workflow of cultural heritage work in Australia.

3D modelling provides a high-quality digital record of a stone tool that is more tangible than static photographs, because it can be engaged with in a manner more similar to handling the actual artefact.  The digital models can also be printed, and the printouts can be used in teaching sets.  The Anaiwan are experimenting with the 3D digital format as a means of meeting cultural obligations while at the same time building a collection of material they can use for teaching and outreach.  The models in the Museum of Stone Tools, and the collection on Pedestal, also tell the world that Anaiwan People treasure their heritage and are managing it properly for the benefit of all peoples.

—Mark Moore (UNE) and Steven Ahoy (Anaiwan Elder and Cultural Knowledge Holder)