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What to do if you find an Indigenous artefact or a fossil

[supplied by NIAA]

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Sally Hurst, Founder of Found a Fossil. Image: supplied

For thousands of years, the original inhabitants of Australia lived and died and left their mark on this ancient landscape; marks such as burial and camp sites, tools and other cultural artefacts.

Not everybody who finds an artefact is an archaeologist or anthropologist, so a new website has been launched to guide the average Australian on what to do when they make such an important discovery.

Founded by Macquarie University Masters student Sally Hurst, Found a Fossil provides clear instruction on what to do, whether you find a spear head made thousands of years ago, or a fish skeleton buried in the sea floor millions of years before that.

‘Lots of fossils, and Indigenous artefacts, are often found by farmers, bushwalkers, beachgoers, rather than by scientists,’ Sally said.

‘It got me thinking that if I was ever to find a fossil, or an Indigenous artefact, I would actually have no idea what I was meant to do with it. I figured that many other people also had no idea. It then hit me that there was a really big knowledge gap here, and that I potentially had the background and skills to address it.’

Since launching the website in August 2021, Sally has received moral support from dozens of people. She’s also been contacted by those reaching out for further assistance with repatriation of Indigenous artefact finds, or potential new discoveries that they have made.

‘The website has become a non-judgemental platform that enables people to start conversations about heritage, its protection and management – engaging people who may not have felt comfortable sharing their perspectives before,’ Sally said.

Support has also come from local Aboriginal Land Councils, regional museums and various government departments and societies providing Sally and the website a network of supporters.

The site has received thousands of visits from all over Australia and from as far afield as Mozambique and Malaysia.

In January, Sally included a survey on the site, a feature which is playing an important role in gathering opinion and research data for her Master’s degree.

‘I’ve had over 1000 people complete the survey and provide their perspectives on heritage protections in Australia,’ she said.

Sally has applied for grants to support the website into the future. She also wants to develop an outreach program she can take to schools, something she will no doubt do with the same skill, enthusiasm and imagination she has brought to her website.

Apart from her Master’s degree, Sally also works as an Education Presenter at the Australian Museum, as a tutor for Indigenous students with Walanga Muru, and as a student ambassador in the Future Students team at Macquarie University.

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