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Using GIS/GNSS Data Collection to Preserve Aboriginal Sites

In Australia, Aboriginal cultural heritage can turn up in the most unexpected of places. When it does, these artifacts can bring development and construction to a screeching halt. But one archaeological management company is using Trimble Catalyst to help ensure that a project moves forward in a way that maintains the integrity of these important sites.

Cooper in the field, excavating a site in Western Victoria, Australia. Photo: Cooper Heritage Management.

An archaeological management consultancy company based in Western Victoria, Australia, Cooper Heritage Management specializes in Aboriginal cultural heritage. This includes preserving such tangible assets as scarred trees (a tree that has had its bark removed to make, for example, a canoe, shield, or dish), stone artifacts, and quarry and meeting sites, along with such intangibles as songs, dances and stories. 

Because much its work takes place in the bush, the company is a big fan of Trimble Catalyst.

Quick and Easy to Use

For company director Abby Cooper, one of the key benefits of Catalyst is that it is quick and easy to use. Before going out on a job, she simply uploads the project area and any previously registered Aboriginal sites onto the Trimble Connect collaboration platform, and syncs the data to Trimble TerraFlex, Trimble’s GIS data collection software. 

Once in the field, Cooper just connects to Catalyst via the Trimble Mobile Manager app on her phone and attaches the Catalyst DA antenna to either a 2-meter rover rod or Trimble backpack, depending on the terrain she’s working in. 

The Right Amount of Accuracy 

Catalyst also provides Cooper with the right amount of accuracy. For example, she recently used Catalyst to record a stone hut, part of a World Heritage Site, made from basalt lava that dates back 6,600 years. The remnants, which are laid out in a C shape, were recorded at 1- and 2-cm level accuracy. 

“Using Catalyst, my phone, and a rover rod, I could go around and record the inner and outer circumference, which gave us a very good indication of the shape and size of the hut,” explains Cooper. “Without Catalyst, we wouldn’t have had the accuracy needed to do this.”

The company is currently working with a local council on a tourism trail that will run along a local river. Using Catalyst, the Cooper Heritage Management team has recorded 16 scarred trees, one shell midden—a heap composed predominantly of Mollusk shells—and an artefact scatter, a place that holds material remains of past Aboriginal people's activities. According to Cooper, Catalysts’ accuracy makes it particularly ideal for recording these types of in-situ archaeological deposits.

A scarred tree with bark removed

A scarred tree, which likely had its bark removed to make a canoe, shield, or dish. Photo: Cooper Heritage Management.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel 

Prior to using Catalyst, Cooper would record every site on an individual recording form. But when you’re in the field for days or even weeks on end and finding many sites, this can quickly add up to a lot of paperwork to carry around and keep track of.

To save time, Cooper created different templates within TerraFlex that she can use with specific site types. This allows her to easily record all the relevant elements for a given site and enter the data directly into Catalyst—no paperwork needed. The feature also allows her to attach photos to the data, which helps with identifying sites when collating data.

Develop the Future, Preserve the Past 

According to Cooper, although development is essential to society, it’s equally as important to take steps to preserve the past. 

Thanks to its ease-of-use, the right amount of accuracy and ability to customize, Catalyst gives Cooper Heritage Management a distinct competitive advantage—one they continually use to protect Australia’s rich cultural heritage for generations to come.

“Catalyst makes striking the balance between progress and preservation so easy I don’t understand why every archaeology company isn’t using it.”Abby Cooper, director, principal heritage advisor and historian at Cooper Heritage Management