Why is Archaeology Important?

Archaeologists together on site. Image courtesy of Rhys Booth.
Archaeologists together on site. Image courtesy of Rhys Booth.

Archaeology… It’s not a word or a profession that is spoken about much in the day to day unless you’re in it. As far as the majority of Geelong is aware it has little bearing on their lives outside of the occasional heritage listed property these days or the occasional time team repeat on the ABC.

But how do we do it in this day and age? More importantly why?

 

Archaeology has come a long way from the pith helmet wearing finger pointing academic whose sole concern was to bring back grand artefacts to museums and rediscover ‘lost cities’. Our profession is now run by development for the most part. We work in offices writing up cultural heritage management reports and plans (Sometimes we get to go dig, when they let us out). This is our bread and butter work. While different to what people usually expect there is still a percentage ‘less than 30%’ of archaeologists that are employed in Government and Universities around Australia.

Instead of tooth brushes for the most part (depending on the situation) we use 3 ton excavators, and instead of finding new cities we dig out old cisterns.

Why is the work we do important? Is it? Well from a boy who struggled through school both academically and socially I can say my inspiration to become an archaeologist gave me comfort during the bad times. Running home to watch Mick Aston and Phil Harding tackle a new challenge was always the most attention grabbing part of my day. It gave me hope that one day I could be as analytical and yet approachable to tell these wonderful stories of people who came before us, people who now do not have a voice yet leave us with so much more than just a legacy.

“Archaeology is important for many reasons but not as important as many other things, so while someone is happy to pay me to do the job that I love and satisfy my own curiosity, I am beyond complaining”.

 

But I digress, why is archaeology important? Well the head of the archaeology department at La Trobe university divulged to his class in 2012 that “Archaeology is important for many reasons but not as important as many other things, so while someone is happy to pay me to do the job that I love and satisfy my own curiosity I am beyond complaining”.

My reason for this was so we can learn from the past as a species to understand how to avoid things such as war and starvation. I came to the realisation that the idea of us “learning from our past mistakes as a species” has not happened for the better part of the 5000 years of “civilisation” so why would we start now? Because of archaeology? Not likely wars will still be fought, nations stand and fall, leaders come and go.

So why is archaeology important? The answer is simply because we make it so; we put value on these things as a Nation a state and as a local community. We value the idea of an indigenous culture that adapted to climate change and continued to develop for 60,000 years and now still continues by other means. We value the idea of European explorers like Cook who came from nothing to give us everything. We value the football teams the parks and the buildings. I value a piece of ceramic that a dear friend gave to me, plucked it from the surface of freshly turned earth at the Carlton gardens in Melbourne and then divulged to me the greatest secret, “archaeology is everywhere it is always being created and for the most part is someone else’s rubbish”.

I love it; I love the exploration of the earth the things left by our ancestors yours and mine, to learn ever more allowing museums to develop a deeper story for us to understand.

An example of this was the drunk soldier that fired a Shell from Point Nepean Fort at the pub for throwing him out, well good thing it’s range was shorter then 13km because when his comrades found him they realised he had managed to line up the pub perfectly…in his inebriated state.

These stories are the ones that allow us to learn and contemplate a deeper thought about who we are.

That is why archaeology is important, to me I hope one day Geelong will be a city which embraces its heritage a little tighter as we move into our brave new world because one day all that we will leave behind is our legacy and our rubbish.

RDB

 

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