New Archaeology Course gives students unique professional experience

(Photo by Ben Shaw)

Archaeology is a vibrant field at the forefront of capturing cultural heritage, and Archaeologists are in high demand. A new course at The Australian National University is giving students hands on experience and invaluable industry ready skills, while working with First Nations communities to capture their long connection to country.

ARCH 3006: Professional Archaeology is a new intensive course run in collaboration with EXTENT Heritage, a specialist in heritage management and assessment across and Australia and the Asia-Pacific.  The new course introduces students to procedural and practical skills required to work effectively as a professional archaeologist in Australia, and was developed specifically to bridge the transition between learning and professional practice.

“The collaboration came about when I and the Extent team were working on the Acton campus as part of the ANU Heritage Masterplan project team back in 2018,” says Jim Wheeler, co-convenor of the new course and Executive Director of Extent Heritage. “Over several meetings and numerous cups of coffee, I and ANU Senior Lecturer Duncan Wright got talking about the gaps between the academic and the professional worlds of Australian archaeology and the huge untapped opportunities that exist for research and commercial collaboration, skill sharing and mentoring that would benefit ANU faculty and students and the professional archaeologists working in the Extent Heritage team.”

ARCH 3006: Professional Archaeology allows students to work on an Aboriginal Heritage Survey, going into the field to work on real discoveries and applying techniques in real conditions. The fieldwork this year took students to a rural property north of Canberra near Lake George, working in consultation with landowners and with local First Nations Elders like Uncle Wally Bell and Auntie Dr Matilda House.

“It's on a pathway that, according to people like Wally Bell, was a cultural pathway into the hinterland. So obviously very important. It's connected with stories of the serpent the created Lake George and then came up to form the rivers through sinuous movements,” says Dr Duncan Wright, who co-convenes the course and speaks enthusiastically about the importance of the survey site and rare opportunity it offers to students. “It's one of the very rare quarry sites in this region… this was kind of like the Bunnings store for the region, so people would come from miles away to this place. So very, very significant. And indeed it's now been listed as an Aboriginal place, which means there's not so many of New South Wales sites.”

The course bring together a diverse set of talent, offering the students who participated a rich opportunity to see and experience different skills and expertise used in and essential to contemporary archaeological careers.

“Phil Piper, who co coordinated it, he's a zoo archaeologist. There was people who were experts at mapping. There were people who were experts at 3D Photogrammetry, there was just a huge amount of expertize on tap,” says Duncan. “If I had got this when I was doing my undergrad, I would have loved it because in a very short space of time you just get immersed.”

The course also offers an opportunity to for students, alumni and First Nations people to come together to build the professional skills of the next generation of archaeologists, forge stronger links between industry and education, and foster a greater appreciation for the important of First Nations cultural heritage. Jim Wheeler along with David Johnston who is also involved in the course, are ANU graduates. David became one of the first Indigenous Australians to gain a degree in archaeology when he graduated in 1989.

For Jim Wheeler, returning to be a part of this course and as an Honorary Lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology was a wonderful experience. “It is great to be back and working with ANU as an Honorary Senior Lecturer and hopefully making a contribution to the students coming through,” says Jim. “I think the education I got back in the 1990s gave me an incredible base to build a great career in professional archaeology that has taken me all over the world and right around the country over the last 25 years. Much has changed at the ANU over the 25 years since I left, but what is really pleasing to see is the academic staff and students still retain the same down to earth, no-nonsense culture focused on great research and high-quality archaeological practice.”

For Duncan Wright, this new course represents only the first milestone in providing students at ANU with increasing opportunities in their archaeological studies, with more exciting initatives on the way.

“We're literally creating a whole new stream in professional archaeology, accompanied by field schools and field methods, courses and also courses that are specifically relating to upskilling and scientific archaeology. We have over 30 great courses that students can take”

ARCH3006 Professional Archaeology ran over three weeks during the Autumn Session in 2022. Look out for details about future sessions of this course.