Archaeology and Mining (and Reptiles!) in Western Australia

I have been working as an archaeologist at an archaeological consultancy firm, since late last year and today is a rare day for me – a day in lieu! As this hasn’t been very exciting, I will document the day for which I earned this time off..

Since joining my work place, most of my work has been based in our Melbourne head office. We take on a variety of clients, and one of our biggest projects is based in the Pilbara desert, Western Australia, where a number of iron ore mines have been, or are currently being, constructed. The Pilbara desert is also home to some of our richest and previously undisturbed Indigenous heritage, and there are several practices that mining companies must observe prior to developing the land in accordance with Western Australian Indigenous heritage legislation. This is where we come in.

For most of the year, my work has included managing the data that has been sent back from the field in the Pilbara and writing reports (there are lots to be written!), most of which are applications for Ministerial consent to disturb archaeological sites. Following the completion of one such report and the receipt of Ministerial consent to conduct excavations at a number of sites, I was sent with one of our teams out to the desert to take part in these excavations. This was my first time out to the Pilbara, and I was quite nervous! Western Australia is home to some of our deadliest snakes, and the first thing I saw when I arrived at our accommodation was a sign outside my door reading ‘beware of snakes’. It struck me then just how far from the office I was..

The day on which this photo was taken was characteristic of my two week ‘swing’ (or fieldwork stage) out on the mining site. We generally rose at 5.15am, leaving us time to eat breakfast and pack our lunches before meeting the rest of the team at 6am. We usually arrived on site by 6.20am, working through until 4pm. This photo was taken towards the end of the swing, and on this day we were working in a lovely, large and shady site and were conducting excavations. We found a range of cultural material at the site, making it a particularly interesting working day, and the three archaeologists present took it in turns at excavating, sieving and site recording. Also on site were field representatives of the mining company and the Traditional Owners, who we work very closely with in all areas of our archaeological site investigations.

Working in the Pilbara also meant working closely with wildlife! A number of snakes were spotted on this day (thankfully, not by me), and we received a visit from this curious gecko during our lunch break.. After a cuddle and a photo opportunity, he was  returned to his rock in the sun where he watched us work for the rest of the day, apparently finding our ‘day of archaeology’ as interesting as we did. After packing up our equipment, we then headed back to camp for showers, dinner, and a mid-strength beer or two.

And now that we’re safely home in Melbourne, here comes the really fun part – writing up the excavation report!