Is the development boom a bust for archaeology?

Check one two, check one two, is this thing working? Sorry, old person’s joke. This is my first blog.

I’ve signed up for something as exciting as it is daunting. A directed studies project which will form a small part of  work by Dr Mick Morrison, of Flinders University, into how the ethical standards of archaeologists have been affected by the development boom and the rise of cultural heritage management (CHM). It is a qualitative research project based on around six interviews with willing victims; practicing consulting archaeologists.

On the daunting side, I’m faced with the prospect of playing a small part in an analytical and critical project about the industry in which I seek future employment. But my career in archaeology has waited two and a half decades to get off the ground since I finished my undergraduate work, so there is no hurry to get a job.

Dr Morrison  has identified a gap in the literature, and general discussion, on the topic and has defined the project thus: “Archaeology and the development boom: an analysis of professional ethics and standards in Australian archaeology’’.

Dr Morrison himself pulls no punches in his criticism of the lack of public debate about the direction of the profession in the wake of the development boom, writing in a 2011 blog: “I sometime wonder whether archaeology as a discipline in Australia has been bought”. He concludes that the boom has been good for employment prospects and university enrolments in archaeology, but there is doubt that it has been good for heritage management and our knowledge of the past.

I have begun by reviewing the literature, such as it is, over a 30 year period. While, since the early 1980s, there has been sporadic comment about the nature of CHM versus academic research, it is almost entirely focussed on the pressures faced by those in the former rather than the standard of their work. (Practicing archaeology in front of an advancing bulldozer is a frightening image used by more than one critic.)

If anything, by outlining the seriously compromised conditions some in CHM must work under, the literature has so far only set out the need for the sort of analysis proposed by Dr Morrison, to determine what the outcomes have been on professional and ethical standards.

In my next blog I will try to summarise what critics have identified are the problems faced by many CHM practitioners.

Miles Kemp

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2 responses to “Is the development boom a bust for archaeology?

  1. Susan Piddock

    Dear Miles
    That sounds like an interesting topic. You might find it worth joining the Ozarch email list and checking the archives as discussions in the past about consulting work could give you some other views.
    https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en&fromgroups#!forum/ozarch

    Good luck another older person Susan P.

  2. Check out the Time Team Special – Londinium. It follows archaeological investigation (and not the TT crowd) progressing in the bow wave of a major development. One great discussion point is the negotiation between developers and the archaeologists in negotiating more time.