Aboriginal heritage information

The Northern Territory (NT) has a rich and diverse range of Aboriginal archaeological places, including:

  • artefact scatters
  • shell middens
  • earth mounds
  • quarries
  • stone arrangements
  • rock shelters
  • rock art
  • places that provide evidence of early contact between Aboriginal people and Europeans.

Macassan heritage

The NT coastline also contains evidence of Macassan people, who sailed from Indonesia in the early 1700s until the early 1900s, and interacted with Aboriginal people. 

Evidence of these visits include:

  • the remains of stone fireplaces and smoke houses
  • tamarind trees planted by Macassan people
  • fragments of earthenware and porcelain.

Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places are important to Aboriginal people as part of their continuing culture and identity.

Traditional Owners must be:

  • involved in decision-making
  • told of the intent to carry out archaeological survey work or research
  • involved in fieldwork (if possible)
  • consulted about progress, findings and recommendations in a way that is easy to understand
  • acknowledged for their contribution.

When consulting with Aboriginal communities, archaeological consultants should follow the policies on the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists website.

If you’re proposing development in an area that may have unidentified Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places, contact the Heritage Branch for advice.

This includes land that:

  • has not been cleared or disturbed before; and
  • has at least one landscape feature such as a watercourse, rocky outcrop or escarpment that suggests an Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological place.

The Heritage Branch may ask for an archaeological survey of the proposed development area and will consider the scale of disturbance.

They will also provide the Scope of Work for proposed surveys, which you will be responsible for.

Examples of where it is unlikely to find Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places could be where the land:

  • is reclaimed
  • has been cleared or disturbed before
  • has been built over.

In these examples, it is likely you will not need to take action. But if an Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological place is discovered, you must stop work as required.

If the impact of your work is unavoidable and you propose to disturb Aboriginal or Macassan archaeological places, you must apply for a permit.

You may get permission from the Heritage Branch for a small-scale disturbance such as for the relocation of isolated stone artefacts, without applying for a permit.

This is allowed under the Heritage Act 2011.

Before the artefacts are disturbed, you must record places and objects.

The final decision on what happens to the artefacts is up to the Heritage Branch. The preference is for them to be handed over to the Traditional Owners.

To apply for a permit, follow these steps:

Step 1. Fill in an application to carry out work on a heritage place or object.

Application to carry out work on heritage place or object DOCX (62.4 KB)

Application to carry out work on heritage place or object PDF (571.0 KB)

Step 2. Submit your application by mail or email.

Heritage Branch
Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities
GPO Box 1448
Darwin NT 0800

Information about Aboriginal and Macassan archaeological places in the NT is culturally sensitive.

You can only access the information for the following reasons:

  • if you have a legitimate interest
  • your request relates to the management of these archaeological places.

For more information, contact the Heritage Branch.


For more information, contact the Heritage Branch by emailing heritage.branch@nt.gov.au or calling 08 8999 5039.

Last updated: 24 September 2020

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