Changing Perspectives in Australian Archaeology: Papers in Honour of Val Attenbrow

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Changing Perspectives in Australian Archaeology: Papers in Honour of Val Attenbrow Edited by Jim Specht and Robin Torrence Technical Reports of the Australian Museum, Online 23:1-174 (2011). ISSN 1835-4211. Free on line:

Unlike many edited festschrifts which tend to be eclectic affairs, the contributions to Changing Perspectives in Australian Archaeology coalesce around two major themes mirroring those that have underpinned Val Attenbrow's extraordinary contribution to Australian archaeology. First is an attention to detail and careful scholarship to reveal new details about the past. Second is the use of multiple (and often novel) analyses and approaches to tease out the factors underpinning assemblage variability. Contributors pick up on many aspects of Val's work, including documenting variability in stone artefact assemblages, adopting landscape approaches and, of course, exploring the meaning of change itself.

Peter White opens the volume with an appreciation of Val's contribution to advancing real and meaningful 'regional' archaeology in Australia. As noted by many others, Val's Upper Mangrove Creek study stands as the most rigorous and detailed regional study seen through to completion, probably only rivalled by her subsequent Port Jackson Archaeological Project. As White notes, Val took advantage of her unique positioning as a consultant and public servant prior to joining the Australian Museum and her continuing close involvement with applied archaeology done by the Australian Museum Business Services and collaborations with academics (most notably at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University) to access the widest dataset possible. White concludes that emulation of Val's efforts in other major centres would lead to productive insights in other regions.

Several of the contributors explore Val's beloved Sydney Basin and nearby areas (Irish; Tacon et al.). Reading these contributions reminded me of comments a contemporary of Val's once made to me that at the time Val took up her appointment at the Australian Museum they could not see any potential in 'doing' an archaeology of Sydney and expressed genuine surprise that Val had made such a success of it! Paul Irish highlights the continuing lack of interest in protecting post-contact Indigenous sites, falling squarely between the cracks of legislative protection regimes and academic interests. Irish's preliminary results from the Sydney Aboriginal Historical Places Project echo those of Val's Port Jackson Archaeological Project, with an enormous database in evidence in highly urbanised areas, and also demonstrating previous blinkered approaches to the documentation and protection of historical Aboriginal cultural places.

Val's ongoing contributions to refining archaeological methods are clearly reflected in the papers by Sullivan, Hughes and Barham using geoarchaeological techniques to distinguish natural from cultural shell deposits near Port Hedland and Ross and Tomkins' contribution investigating the impact of sieve sizes on fish bone recovery in Moreton Bay. …


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