Archaeology News and Reviews

New book: “New directions in archaeological science”

The Terra Australis monograph series has traditionally provided an important publication opportunity for researchers working in the Australasian region, particularly for those wanting to publish lengthy data rich work such as PhD theses or other major archaeological projects. The series started in 1971 and despite a 10 year gap in new volumes between 1989 and 1999, the series has had a notable resurgence in recent years supplementing the traditional monograph format with edited volumes and conference proceedings. The most recent Terra Australis volume ‘New Directions in Archaeological Science’, edited by Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick is I suspect one of the first conference proceedings to be published in the series.

This volume emerged from the 2005 meeting of the Australasian Archaeometry Association and includes papers on geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry:

Archaeological Science meetings will have a personality of their own depending on the focus of the host archaeological fraternity itself. The 8th Australasian Archaeometry meeting follows this pattern but underlying the regional emphasis is the continuing concern for the processes of change in the landscape that simultaneously effect and illuminate the archaeological record. These are universal themes for any archaeological research with the increasing employment of science-based studies proving to be a key to understanding the place of humans as subjects and agents of change over time.

This collection of refereed papers covers the thematic fields of geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry, with particular emphasis on the first two. The editors Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick outline the special value of these contributions in the introduction. The international nature of archaeological science will mean that the advances set out in these papers will find a receptive audience among many archaeologists elsewhere. There is no doubt that the story that Australasian archaeology has to tell has been copiously enriched by incorporating a widening net of advanced science-based studies. This has brought attention to the nature of the environment as a human artefact, a fact now more widely appreciated, and archaeology deals with these artefacts, among others, in this way in this publication.

You can find the chapter list here and the editors provide a good overview of the volume in their foreword. For me, stand out papers include a series on open sites within the complex semi-arid landscapes of western New South Wales (papers by Fanning, Holdaway and Phillips; Shiner; and Holdaway, Fanning and Littleton) as well as several considering some of the complexities of using marine shell for radiocarbon dating (Petchey; Bourke and Hua). However this only reflects my personel interests rather than the quality of other papers on topics including OSL dating, chemical characterisation of pottery, analysis of megafaunal bones and macrobotanical analysis.

Significantly, the volume is published both in printed form and as a (free) electronic download by the Australian National University E-Press. For some reason, it appears as Terra Australis 28 (2009 publication date) while another good volume published last year (Islands of Inquiry: colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime seascapes edited by Clark, Leach and O’Connor) was published in 2008 as volume 29.

Via the Archaeometry blog

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2 replies on “New book: “New directions in archaeological science””

Dear Michael
Ginger here from ABC Far North. I’m interested in your PhD research but I don’t fully understnad what it’s about. I wonder if you could email me briefly in plain English was you investigated & what you found?
Many thanks.

Hello Ginger,

Thanks for your interest in my work. I will write something in plain english as a separate blog post, and will drop you an email when I have done this. I have been meaning to do that for a while; no point in doing this work if it’s not accessible to the broader community.

My PhD work looked at the way Aboriginal people in the Weipa region lived over the past 1,000 years. I investigated a type of fairly spectacular archaeological site that is found throughout coastal Cape York – shell mound sites – and which are found in abundance at Weipa and date to between about 2,300 years and 100 years ago. I tried to reconstruct the diet, settlement patterns and social organisation of people using and building these sites so that we have a better understanding of what these places represent in terms of Aboriginal history. The work suggested that Aboriginal people developed very sophisticated systems that maximised their use of shellfish resources that were quite variable – what archaeologists might call a marginal resource.

It’s kind of a complicated story, one that I’ve not yet tried to put into plain english however as I said I will endeavour to write something up for you.

Thanks again,


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