Author Archives: mileskemp2013

40,000 years ago, Archaeology says nothing happened at this site.

Reading these other blogs I wish I had some great pictures to show you, or even report that I got some sand between my toes. But alas, my directed studies topic “Archaeology and the development boom: an analysis of professional ethics and standards in Australian archaeology’’ involved less adventurous, but I hope as revealing, telephone interviews.

So interviews done, surprises aplenty, but perhaps some only from my inexperienced point of view. It seems, despite a very small sample (two one-hour interviews with CHM practitioners) that Dr Mick Morrison’s belief that a research project awaits, is well founded.

One surprise would seem to translate across the field of archaeology, even to my untrained ear. CHM has potentially discovered Indigenous artefacts with a date of 40,000 BP, yet the results may never be subjected to academic study or even recording. That would seem to pose a significant problem.

The details: So the entirety of my question to the second anonymous subject, based on criticism in the literature, was: “How often during survey work have you recommended the need for follow up specialist academic investigations (e.g. excavation, dating, detailed lab work, conservation work) and have you encountered resistance to such work from the client: very often, sometimes, rarely, or not at all.”

The answer included (with potentially identifying comments marked with an x):

“I will give you one really good example. We just did some investigations just xxx near xxx and I have some basal dates associated with artefacts at 40,000 years. They only have a TL date and I don’t want to publish it and I don’t want to tell anyone about it because I can’t say positively that I’m happy that the association of the artefact with the age is the real one. Now I can’t get the proponent X … X to actually fork out to do more research. It desperately needs it but I just can’t get him to respond. It is probably one of the most important sites in terms of age in Australia it has got to be the oldest site on the XXXX.

Unless someone has some political will this is going to go on and on and on. And this guy is notorious for taking people to court so we really have to watch what we do. The answer would be in terms of specific research it is rare.”

For now I’ll leave it to far more experienced minds to judge the potential significance.

Miles Kemp

The pitfalls of consulting archaeology

I have finished my literature review for my directed studies topic “Archaeology and the development boom: an analysis of professional ethics and standards in Australian archaeology’’, and faced with the challenge of fitting the numerous threats to ethical standards posed by issues in the industry in a 500 word blog have decided to summarise them in one sentence thus; that heritage surveys do not constitute true archaeological research and over-emphasise conservation over research, the results of this work are rarely published and funding is not provided in contracts for any research, CHM has changed focus from managing sites for their archaeological value to managing them for their Aboriginal cultural or social value, the role of State-based archaeologists is being changed from research to being desk bound, excavation has been de-emphasised in favour of survey work, the public service agencies which administer legislation also benefit from expanding this role, consultants often deal with the client through the intermediary of the regulatory authority, copyright of information can be retained by the Minister in some situations, site surveys can be determined by boundaries which have no other scientific significance, pressure exists to finish work as quickly as possible and significant finds made have the potential to delay the project and cost more money, consulting archaeologists often have to work in less than ideal conditions and there is pressure to move on the next job to keep earning a living, salvaging and recording as much information as possible often just prior to earthmoving equipment beginning work, the idea that a place can be destroyed as long as all information is recorded is flawed because it is not possible to record everything at a site or its environmental context (nor can anyone predict what information may be valued by later research), developers consider consultants can be interchangeable because they are applying standard techniques, the code of ethics is not legally binding, and not accepted by all archaeologists.

In my next blog I hope to have nailed down a list of survey questions for the consultant archaeologists who have volunteered themselves for the project.

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