Professor Rhys Jones, AO Australian Archaeologist 26 February 1941--19 September 2001

By Ward, Graeme K. | Australian Aboriginal Studies, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Professor Rhys Jones, AO Australian Archaeologist 26 February 1941--19 September 2001


Ward, Graeme K., Australian Aboriginal Studies


Rhys was born in Wales, attended a grammar school in Cardiff and won a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1959 where he studied basic sciences and mathematics, and archaeology and anthropology, participating in excavations and travelling in Europe and southwestern Asia (Meehan 2001). He was appointed as teaching fellow in the Department of Anthropology of the University of Sydney in 1963, graduating with a doctorate from there in 1971, and as research fellow in prehistory at the then Research School of Pacific Studies of the Australian National University in 1968. He held the visiting chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University, was appointed to a personal chair at ANU in 1993, and was a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and of the Society of Antiquarians. Rhys retired in June 2001, when he was presented with a festschrift contributed to by many of his numerous colleagues and friends (Anderson et al 2001). Rhys Jones died in September last year of leukaemia.

Rhys researched in several parts of Australia and contributed broadly to hunter-gatherer studies. His initial, doctoral, project in Tasmania confirmed pre-land-bridge-separation occupation there; in 1977 he collaborated with filmmaker Tom Haydon in a documentary, The Last Tasmanians; in the early 1980s, Rhys' research into Pleistocene archaeological sites contributed to the recognition of the antiquity of early human occupation of high-latitude southwestern Tasmania, and World Heritage listing, in 1982, of the Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks (Anon. 2002). In western New South Wales, Rhys contributed to the initial archaeological research at Lake Mungo whose archaeological sites demonstrated early and continuing human occupation through fluctuating Holocene environments to historic times (Johnston and Clark 1998). With Betty Meehan, Rhys worked with Anbarra people in northeastern Arnhem Land from the early 1970s, and developed aspects of ethnoarchaeology that have been significant in interpretation of archaeological evidence in Australia. In the last decade, Rhys, working in conjunction with various colleagues, including Alan Watchman and Bert Roberts, pursued his interest in identifying aspects of the earliest settlement of the continent through fieldwork in northern Western Australia and in Arnhem Land, at sites dating up to circa 60ka bp.

Rhys published consistently and widely, in Welsh and French as well as English, and the list of his papers (Anon. 2001a) and the various contributions to the festschrift reveal the considerable breadth of his interests.

Rhys' involvement with AIATSIS began shortly after his arrival in Australia when he applied successfully for assistance to carry out a survey of archaeological sites in Tasmania (Lambert 2001). The Institute assisted his later work in Tasmania, in western New South Wales and in the Northern Territory. Rhys became a Member of the Institute in 1966; he served the Institute on numerous committees and panels, including the Research Advisory Committee as Prehistory, Sites and Material Culture specialist, and was an elected member of Council between 1978 and 1990.

Rhys sought collaboration with Indigenous Australians and established good working relationships and many friendships from Tasmania to Arnhem Land. With colleagues such as Les Hiatt and Betty Meehan he was instrumental in formalising relationships between the Institute and Arnhem Land peoples through the ritual diplomacy Rom ceremony, performed by Anbarra at the Institute in 1982 and 1995.

The published obituaries listed in the References attest to what many recognised: the breadth of Rhys Jones' research interests and skills, his curiosity, Rhys Jones (middle) with wife Betty Meehan and AIATSIS Principal Russ Taylor at launch of WEH Stanner Finding Aid, Institute's Library Stanner Room, 3 April 2001. Photographer Brendan Bell.

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