An Archaeology of Australia since 1788

Article excerpt

An archaeology of Australia since 1788

By Susan Lawrence and Peter Davies

New York: Springer, 2011

ISSN 1574-0439. ISBN 978-1-4419-7484-6; e-ISBN 978-1-4419-7485-3. Pp. 421. 59.55 [pounds sterling].

The book presents an archaeology of Australia from 1788 to 1945 in a series of themes in 13 chapters: convict origins, Aboriginal dispossession and survival, shipwrecks and maritime trade, sealing, whaling and maritime industries, pastoralism and agriculture, gold rushes and precious metals, manufacturing and processing, migration and ethnicity, an urbanised nation, Australians at home, death, and the twentieth century and beyond. The title's indefinite article suggests that there is more than one possible archaeology of this period.

The main reason Lawrence and Davies cite for the importance of study of the historical archaeology of Australia is the differences between the archaeological record and the historical record, and therefore it can offer "new perspectives". A key area here is in the "realm of daily life", many aspects of which were typically not mentioned in records. Places of home and work may have been too mundane to describe: farmhouses and outbuildings, shops, mines, mills and factories that "were all part of the landscape" and therefore rarely worthy of mention. The study of the archaeology of such places can tell us about these "earlier societies and ways of being", and the book focuses on the conditions of "rich and poor, convicts and their administrators, Aboriginal people, women, children and minority groups". Social and cultural themes of gender, status, ethnicity and identity are examined within the larger themes of historical processes, such as urbanisation, industry and culture contact. Importantly, this book engages with the relevant historical debates as well as the historical archaeology and typically provides some analysis where there are alternative pictures of the past or where the archaeology and history provide contested viewpoints, as in the discussion about the variability of the status suggested by a building in contrast with the artefacts found within the building and what they represent of the lives of the residents, such as found at Lake Innes.

The archaeological stories that Lawrence and Davies tell are examined as part of the global processes of colonisation, creation of settler societies, industrial revolution, mass consumer consumption and the emergence of national identities. They also examine the political context in which research about archaeological sites has been undertaken and the influences that these have had on archaeological knowledge. Each chapter provides an introductory historical and theoretical background as well as overviews of the archaeological site case studies, some of which are then described. The individual case studies present the key elements of sites as well as engaging with the various interpretative structures of the archaeologists, and are occasionally contrasted with each other.

This book is a generational successor to Graham Connah's "Of the hut I builded": The Archaeology of Australia's History (1988, retitled 1993). The pulling together of a new overview book is a major achievement that will be useful for teaching, to consultants and in designing future research. Lawrence and Davies are to be congratulated for their perseverance.

This publication shows how much work has been done in the past 25 years. …

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