I am a MPhil student in the archaeology department of the University of Western Australia. My research interests include relational ontology, learning and skill development, material culture studies, and studies of Australian Aboriginal stone artefacts. I am also currently the co-chair of the World Archaeological Congress' Student Committee and am actively involved in the Australian Archaeological Association as a social media manager.

To those in the field who do strain…

Hello! Dear friends, on this day of arch

I’ve a poem for you, little more than a lark.

So forgive me today, if I do not blog

and don’t think my rhyme is simply just fog!

 

We love our heritage, the things we’ve saved;

my cup of tea is how knowledge is made.

Now many have said that, ‘theory’s a game’

but I’ll follow my passion if it’s all the same.

 

‘Theory’s too hard!’ my students shout,

those old ideas still have some clout.

The dirt, the lab, my colleagues’ calling,

the theory ‘game’ is for what I am falling.

 

So g’day! To those in the field who do strain,

Today is a day I simply work with my brain.

Solace in words while friends dig the ground.

It is not dashing, old white men abound,

but I love my theory radical, critical, profound!

On the Road. An Australian Archaeologist In-Transit

Boots

Literally pulling on my boots. Note that in addition to their obvious aesthetic value, these are also steel-capped for safety and include bonus resistance training for my legs.

As a more theoretically inclined archaeologist my usual habitat is my university department but today I actually pulled on my work boots and set out for two weeks of consulting fieldwork in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Somewhat unfortunately for readers of this post, the 11th of July was actually my travel day. Working in remote areas as an archaeologist usually means at least one full day of travel just to get to your base (for many consultants in Australia this will mean a mining camp). Today I haven’t actually left the state but was still in-transit for about 5 hours. In this short post, I want to share a few images and experiences from my work day to give you a sense of some of the more mundane, everyday realities of doing archaeology in Australia.

Luggage is always an interesting logistical concern on fieldwork, you need to be prepared for almost anything and bring it all with you, but cable ties and well-honed tetris skills can solve almost any issue we encounter.

Luggage

There is nothing quite like driving >100km after spending a few hours in a plane, but the pay-off, getting to work in an amazing archaeological landscape will be worth it.

Driving

I definitely won’t be looking this happy tomorrow when I wake up at 5am (FYI, sunrise here in the Pilbara is around 6.45am at the moment; ouch!) and then spend the morning reviewing our field safety procedures and organising equipment before driving out to one of the sites we’ll be working at with local Traditional Owners for the next two weeks.

Me

Ciao!

 

What would Batman think about the Persepolis Fortification Tablets? Debating Heritage and Archaeology’s Place in the Social Sciences

I’m currently finishing my Honours degree (equivalent of a fourth year for those outside Australia) in Brisbane, Australia. My Day of Archaeology was spent in the classroom, taking a research colloquium course to finish the coursework component of my degree. Luckily for this post, our class today was particularly interesting and gives some insight into where archaeology is positioned as a discipline (in the Australian university system at least).

This interdisciplinary colloquium includes students from the four social science disciplines, archaeology, anthropology, sociology and criminology. Over the course of our degrees this is the first course that has brought us all together.  We’re here to learn from each other, discuss our similarities and differences, and ultimately become better researchers. It turns out that even though we are in the one ‘school’ we know so very little about each other, stereotypes abounded in our first class. Archaeologists apparently alternate between looking for treasure and dinosaurs, anthropologists seem to mostly follow Indigenous people around pestering them with questions, sociologists are reportedly obsessed with the philosophy of long dead white men, and criminologists seemingly harbour desires to be Batman. Blatant stereotyping aside, the social sciences are united by a rigorous interest in humanity, a desire to better understand its many nuances and intricacies, and ultimately to contribute our knowledge back to society.

Today’s class features a debate over the potential sale of the Persepolis Fortification Tablets in order to pay off a debt that Iran was judged to owe the victims of the 1997 Hamas bombing in Jerusalem (this is a serious and intensely political case on which you can read more about here). This debate brought up serious questions about cultural heritage, its role in the creation of identity, value in an irreplaceable source of information on the past, and whether items of cultural heritage should be exempt from treatment as ‘assets’.

Clay Tablet, Persepolis Museum, Iran. Image by Pentocelo via Wikimedia

Clay Tablet, Persepolis Museum, Iran. Image by Pentocelo via Wikimedia

What I found most interesting about this debate were the different perspectives that we all had on this one case. Whilst we all recognised the importance of the tablets and emphasised the global nature of cultural heritage, each discipline had a different focus. The sociologists were most interested in aspects of power and control, criminologists over the legality of the case and the commodification of heritage objects, the anthropologists were concerned with the issue of state control over material culture and the intertwining of cultures, and the archaeologists focused on the preservation of cultural heritage and the integrity of these priceless collections.

It seems unfortunate that this is the first time we have been united in our degrees as it is so clear that we have much to learn from our fellow social science disciplines. There is a tendency to put on blinkers and not see the valuable contributions and perspectives that others have on your own discipline. I’m not sure if any of the archaeology students were quite prepared for the unique criminological or sociological take on what you’d assume was a straight archaeological case. As an archaeology student one of the most important takeaways of this day has been the importance of being interdisciplinary and the value of being open to other perspectives.

Off now to rid the streets of crime…

A Precious Day Off in Kakadu National Park

A quite belated Day of Archaeology post since I’m in the field at the moment and am quite restricted for time, which is basically what this post will be about.

I’m an honours student in archaeology at the University of Queensland and for the past month I have been volunteering on archaeological excavations across Arnhem Land in the north of Australia. When I’m not being a student and volunteering on digs I’m also the Membership Secretary for the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA).

Currently I’m working with a fabulous multi-disciplinary team on the re-excavation of Malakunanja II, which is in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, Australia. This is a key site in Australian archaeology due to its early age and potential to improve what we currently know about the early occupation of Australia. Due to agreements made with the Traditional Owners of this area I cannot post details on what we’re doing at the site, so it is quite fortuitous for me that the 29th falls on a day off for us and the first one I’ve had since arriving in the Northern Territory.

On this Day of Archaeology I am busy catching up on my work for the AAA, which is run exclusively by a small number of volunteers who keep the Association running and continually improving. Even though I have internet access of an evening finding the time to attend my AAA responsibilities (as well as my own research!) after a full day of excavation (7am-6pm in the field) is near impossible. So this precious day off is being filled with yet more work.

As the Membership Secretary for AAA my main responsibility is to manage our membership base, e.g. making sure memberships are processed correctly, updating member details, providing access to the member only pages of the website.  I’ve spent most of the 29th working on AAA’s new website and sending out individual login details to our members. This has essentially meant sitting at my computer all day and sending practically the same email to AAA’s 800+ current members.

My main reason for devoting my day off to such a tedious job is not just out of a sense of responsibility, but also out of genuine affection for the Association and the work that it does in the Australian archaeological community. Whilst the responsibility of being an executive member of AAA can be overwhelming and time consuming, it is extremely rewarding and has provided me with an incredible number of unique opportunities. So I should probably consider myself lucky to have it taking up my first day off in a month.

Ultimately time is precious to archaeologists in more ways than one. I think this is a valuable lesson to learn as a student, and balancing competing responsibilities and demands on my time is something that I will likely spend the rest of my career working on.

We’re returning to excavation tomorrow with the privilege of starting work at 7am! You’ll be able to follow some of our progress by following me on twitter, @archaeo_jacq.

Jacq 🙂

Some of the beautiful scenery I’ve been lucky enough to experience whilst doing fieldwork in Arnhem Land for the past month.