Landmark women: Mary-Jane Mountain
Dr Mary-Jane Mountain, retired archaeologist, 16 May 2014
MONICA LINDEMANN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome on this beautiful day to our May Landmark Women event. Our special theme for today is archaeology in recognition and celebration of Archaeology Week which will start next week. [housekeeping matters]
Those of you who are regular members to these events will know our delightful member services officer Carisse Flanagan. I want to make very special mention of her today because you may have noticed she is a little round out the front. She is not much longer with us. I would like to publicly acknowledge her contribution to the membership program and particularly in relation to this wonderful speaker series. She takes great care of our speakers, takes great care of you our members as well, makes sure that you are all comfortable and puts on a fantastic morning tea, which we will dash off and enjoy at 11. Please join me in congratulating and thanking Carisse for her contribution. [applause].
On that, unfortunately neither Carisse nor I can stay for this wonderful talk because I have the awful task of trying to find someone to replace Carisse so I have interviews a bit later. Carisse’s husband, a wonderful photographer, one of his works has been selected to enter a competition in Sydney so she will also be dashing off to join him for that fantastic event today. Congratulations in that area too.
Before I introduce our speaker I would like to welcome Helen Cooke to the stage. Helen is the President of the Canberra Archaeological Society and she is going to spruik a few events for next week.
HELEN COOKE: Thanks for the introduction. On behalf of the Canberra Archaeological Society I would like to acknowledge that we meet today on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Walgalu people and we acknowledge their elders past and present. You will see on your seats we have an amazing program which kicks off - we think Canberra’s National Archaeology Week starts today because of this wonderful event with our lovely Mary-Jane who has been a member of the society for a very long time. A lot of people come up to us at events and say, ‘I didn’t know there was archaeology in Canberra.’ Yes, there is. We are alive and well.
Please have a look at the program. If anyone wants to come to the museums door this afternoon, there are still a few places available - just come and see me. Make sure you wear your coats, because it is cool in there. We start with the official launch at Queanbeyan on Sunday in the lovely museum there where we are going to show you some of the artefacts that have been found around Canberra and explain the background to the people who lived in these sites and excavated them. If you have never seen all of the sites out at Gungahlin that are available to take your grandchildren to, we finish up on Sunday, 25 May with a tour around there with some of us who did the original excavations.
So enjoy Archaeology Week. Get into it. Nothing is difficult to get to. Thank you, Monica, for letting me say a few words. [applause]
MONICA LINDEMANN: Thank you, Helen. I am very pleased to introduce to you Dr Mary-Jane Mountain. She has taught archaeology at four universities across the world over a span of 40 years. In the 1970s, she began fieldwork in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and taught at the University of Papua New Guinea. In 1978 she began a PhD at the Australian National University [ANU] that included eight months of fieldwork in a remote PNG village with her partner Barry Shaw, who is here today, and their three-month-old daughter who is now quite an attractive woman over here with her own daughter or son. I am sure there are fantastic stories attached to that experience.
During her years as an archaeologist, Dr Mountain has discovered many amazing, fascinating animal and human artefacts and she is going to share some of her interesting experiences with us today. So please give a warm welcome to Dr Mountain. [applause]
Dr MARY-JANE MOUNTAIN: I will start with my recognition of and respect for all Aboriginal people who have lived in and moved through what is now Canberra and the surrounding areas. This includes a group of outstanding Aboriginal students who I had the privilege of teaching when I was at the Australian National University. I especially remember Steve Free, who very sadly died last week.
I have acknowledged all sources of illustrations. They come from various publications by friends and colleagues, from my own slides, and from Barry’s slides and photographs. I especially thank Barry for his extraordinarily hard and imaginative work in producing all the illustrations for this talk.
I am not a ‘Landmark Woman’, as are most of the women who have talked to you on these Friday morning sessions. However, this is Archaeology Week - or it will be on Sunday - and I have spent my life as an archaeologist and a teacher. So I accept this opportunity to talk about a few women in archaeology from my own personal perspective, who have been my mentors, my friends and my guides. This will provide a framework to point out some of the major changes that have occurred during my working life of nearly 60 years to women who work in archaeology.
Archaeology has always meant many things. In the first part of the twentieth century, it was mainly about ruined buildings, broken pottery, bones and artefacts. As a discipline it was still exotic, a fringe occupation, largely practised by a few academics and many amateur workers, laced - I think we would now say tainted - with colonialism and largely concerned with the classical civilisations of Egypt, the Near East and the Mediterranean. This type of archaeology is underpinned with documents. Such undertakings were largely led by white men and a few white women, working to explore lost monuments and occupation sites, digging to recover objects.
However, information about earlier periods of prehistory without documents were also emerging. The Australian born Vere Gordon Childe was making Europe aware of many of the monuments and finds belonging to human activity before the Greeks and Romans. His 1925 book The Dawn of European Civilization was revolutionary. When I first attended the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in 1959, the first book I bought was the sixth edition of that work, revised and reset in 1957, the year in which Childe himself died at Govett’s Leap near his childhood home in the Blue Mountains. He was 65 and had just retired. He left most of his library and all of his estate to the institute where he had been director since 1946.
In Britain, archaeologists were busy recording, excavating, analysing finds and interpreting sites. My childhood was spent in the outer suburbs of London during the Second World War. I was born in 1937. We lived on a ridge of the North Downs, overlooking both Croydon and Kenley, which were airports during that war. My father was always turning up pieces of Roman pottery in the garden. My friends and I played along what I now know is a North Downs routeway along the top of the chalk hills, probably used by Neolithic and later travellers. My maternal family lived close in the shadow of the South Downs, where I was aware of Neolithic flint mines and Iron Age hill forts.
At the University of Exeter, studying history in the late 1950s, I was delighted to find, amongst the male staff, a stout-hearted strong woman who taught courses on Prehistoric and Roman Britain. This was the indomitable Lady Aileen Fox, who became my lecturer as well as my moral tutor - we had moral tutors in those days. She introduced me to archaeology in the classroom and, through many student excursions, to the major prehistoric monuments in Wiltshire and southern Britain as well as following her for hours and miles across the raw, windy, open surfaces of Exmoor and Dartmoor to reveal houses, walls and farmlands in what looked like just piles of rocks. She increased my driving skills by insisting I took the wheel of her car, while we negotiated the twists and turns of West Country lanes, sunk deep below the fields and hedges on either side, often without room for two cars to pass.
Aileen was tall, surprisingly clumsy, very shy and often rather brusque. She was also extraordinarily kind and understanding and a great mentor to me. She was dedicated to archaeology and to education and she promoted women by standing her ground in what were then very male-dominated professions. I shall not forget her sweeping into a small lecture theatre and wiping a box of drawing pins off a table with the sleeve of her gown as she passed. A few of us got up to clear the pins away. She waved us down, and we went back to our seats. She went on without regard, treading the pins into the soles of her sturdy but very elegant shoes. We all inwardly winced as more and more pins vanished as she walked through them discussing the details of the Roman baths at Bath. By the end of the lecture most of the pins had vanished. They were stuck in the soles of her shoes, and we listened in awe as she strode out of the room, the studs clanking down the corridor.
She had an interest in archaeology from an early age and went to the University of Cambridge to study English where she met Miles Burkitt and was introduced to prehistory. She volunteered to work on several excavations, one run by a woman Dorothy Liddell at the Neolithic and later Iron Age hill fort of Hembury in Devon. In 1932 she met Cyril Fox, 25 years her senior, whose first wife tragically died later that year, leaving him a widow with two teenaged daughters. Aileen married him a year later, and she and Cyril had a very happy marriage, as you can see in this family portrait by Alan Sorrell. Through the marriage it had given her the opportunity to work professionally in archaeology. Cyril was knighted in 1935 as Director of the National Museum of Wales.
Aileen persuaded two of us in our first year to go to an excavation. This was a large Bronze Age barrow cemetery in Wiltshire in the beautiful Wiltshire Downs. My friend stayed the allotted two weeks and then left. I stayed for the rest of the season and went on to two more excavations during that summer of 1957. I was hooked, and Aileen was delighted. I will just point out here the aerial photograph in 1939 of the Barrow Group, pristine and looking very nice [image shown]. In 1950, after the military had been there for several years, they had in fact targeted many of those barrows and driven their tanks right across and right through the middle of the whole cemetery, which was why it was felt it was time to excavate it in the 1950s.
These were the other two excavations that I attended in 1957: a small Iron Age hill fort in Worcestershire [image shown]. There is the hill fort itself with the ramparts around it, and here is the plan. You can see the linchet fields in the valley below. It was a small domestic hill fort. We excavated a few of the houses and got a lot of pottery and other material out of it. The other site I went to was Gwithian in Cornwall, which was a sand site. As you took off the layers of sand, you came down to the tops of field surfaces. In those days we were very excited when we found plough marks on that area. Here are some of them there [image shown] - this is a later excavation - and some of these are thought to be the hoof prints of animals as they walked on that particular area.
Training, for me in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was very practical. It often involved living under canvas, coping with constantly wet clothes and bedding and heat in summer - nothing of course compared to the temperatures in Australia but enough to cause problems both to food preservation and sunburn. I vividly remember finding the meat scheduled for the evening meal one day crawling with maggots. ‘Wash it well in vinegar, remove all the maggots, and then cook it as planned,’ I was instructed, and nobody else was ever the wiser or ever the sicker, as far as I know.
These excavations were unpaid. It was volunteer work, although very often we were provided with food and accommodation in the camps. We removed the turf with a spade and stacked it neatly to form revetment walls behind which the waste soil was dumped. There were no machines, of course, to remove deposits and no routine geophys images.
Some of the field practices would make a modern health and safety officer blanch. Working in sand was dangerous and shoring was rare. Wheeling heavy barrows of soil up slippery planks and then tipping them out over the top of an increasingly steep slope was hard physical work. We took it in turns, young women as well as young men. I remember a workman saying to me that I would get arthritis young and I would be sorry – well, so far I haven’t been sorry at all and I have only very minor arthritis.
I followed the history degree at Exeter with a postgraduate diploma at the Institute of Archaeology. The institute had been founded in 1937 by Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler to provide archaeological training and research. Tessa had been the driving practical force, probably contributing to her death one year after it opened. They have recently uncovered this plaque to Tessa to show their gratitude for what she did [image shown].
In the early 1960s, all diploma students took classes in surveying and basic conservation. Photography was also compulsory with ‘Cookie’, Maurice Cookson, who was Mortimer Wheeler’s excellent photographer. Unfortunately, he had a habit of using the low light of his dark room to take advantage of female students. We always went there in groups and stuck together to prevent him from chasing us round the developing tanks.
There was also an emphasis on the emerging archaeological sciences, which became very important. There were field trips and I was fortunate to travel to Crete. The headquarters of the excavation was at the Villa Ariadne, which had been built by Sir Arthur Evans who was the first excavator of the Bronze Age Palace of Minos in the early part of the twentieth century. We were there to assist John Evans, who is no relative of Sir Arthur, to continue his Neolithic excavations which were in the central courtyard eight metres below the surface of the Bronze Age palace. Ostensibly we were site supervisors but, with minimal Greek and no experience on the site, we actually merely watched as local workmen, many of whom came from families with a proud continuous tradition of working with archaeologists after Sir Arthur Evans, excavated expertly through the dust and fine grey soils, removing pottery and figurines from Neolithic houses. Eve, John’s wife, warned us we were not to wear shorts or skirts climbing up and down the ladders to the excavations. It was an experience harking back to colonial times of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, working in a culture other than our own, with skilled men who knew far more than we did about the sites, the finds and the local environment.
In the afternoons we were a little more useful, washing, and sorting and labelling pottery and other finds. In the evenings we drank ouzo and strong black coffee at the local tavernas. One resourceful taverna owner managed to inveigle one of our student group to become engaged to his daughter. They were married later in London and had several children and then left for Canada.
During this period I met another of my archaeological women mentors Paddy Christie. She, too, had done a postgraduate diploma at the Institute of Archaeology and then started to excavate sites in Cornwall and Wiltshire. I worked with her on a number of sites, including Bronze Age barrows. [image shown] You can see here the remains of a Bronze Age barrow that she and her dog Pling sitting on the top - Paddy clearly scratching her head and wondering on earth how she was going to interpret this material. She was a meticulous excavator. She recorded with care and thought through every shovel of soil and every stone before they were removed. She worked extraordinarily hard after the fieldwork, and published quickly and thoroughly - putting many colleagues, including myself, to shame.
She gave me the chance to learn how to teach because she asked me to take over her extra mural adult education courses at the Institute of Archaeology. I was in my early 20s teaching a class of mature, experienced people, who were sufficiently interested to come in to the institute two hours every Wednesday. I learnt fast.
One evening, a retired brigadier, after turning very red in the face, exploded and very politely corrected my crass explanations of Romans fighting in an Iron Age hill fort. Another evening a man quietly corrected my very poor explanation of C14 dating, explaining that he actually worked at the C14 laboratories. It was very a good experience and served me well through my teaching career.
However, one of the major problems, once I and other students had graduated, was earning enough money as an archaeologist. The Ministry of Works employed us individually to conduct excavations, sometimes providing labourers, usually from the local prison who were delighted to get out of prison and work. They sometimes provided some very limited and rather old equipment but never anything like cameras. The payment only lasted for the field period itself; there was no money to work on finds or to get the material published. It was very hard and sometimes rather lonely work.
I just pick out one that I did. This was at Staines, a Neolithic causewayed enclosure. It is called a causewayed enclosure because these ditches have got gaps between them [image shown]. They are not defensive. The ditches are circular and the area inside was clearly an important meeting place and perhaps a kind of marketplace for many people within a large area.
After struggling from one short field contract to the next, I finally got a real job: assistant curator at Saffron Walden Museum in Essex. I worked with the curator, another young woman Susan Davies, who, after moving with her family in New Zealand and training there in anthropology and archaeology, had returned to the UK. Change was sweeping through ideas about museums, exhibitions and displays. The museum was a small local one that had been founded very early in 1833 or 1835 by the Quakers in the area. However, not much had changed since the original displays had been put up in the nineteenth century.
In the late 1950s there was a reorganisation of the Great Hall – [image shown] you can see the great hall here as it was in 1845 with the famed stuffed elephant on the right-hand side and its skeleton on the left-hand side, together with many other large animals. Most of those animals were in a very bad way by the 1950s, as you can imagine, and we had to move them out. Even the little elephant left the museum, much to the disappointment of later visitors. Many visitors said, ‘Where is the elephant?’ It finished its life, rather sadly, in a garden belonging to the Fry family, gradually decaying in the English winters.
We removed dusty labels and overcrowded objects. We had new cases built further out than the original cases, but there was no money for displays. We had no other staff whatsoever. So Sue and I cut, glued and painted large sheets of cardboard and put up our own displays. It was a wonderful year expanding my skills and experience, working hard - six days a week with one Saturday off every month - on a small but quite adequate salary.
Following this, I was appointed as assistant lecturer in the department of prehistory at the University of Edinburgh, and from then onwards I was employed by universities. As the only woman on the staff and the youngest and with little experience of how actual universities functioned, I had a lot to learn. The early 1960s was an extraordinary period of change in universities in many disciplines but particularly in archaeology. New scientific techniques were coming in both in the field and in research. There were new theories, new information and interpretations. I bought and even attempted to read a book called Analytical Archaeology by David Clarke, I which might mean something to some of you - very difficult to read. Nobody else on the staff did. They just laughed at me. They weren’t even willing to try. I was introduced to computers and went to classes to learn Fortran.
My older male colleagues were not interested in such change. When I suggested that undergraduates would benefit from tutorials, my colleagues agreed, and I was allowed to introduce this practice for my courses but no-one else took it up. There were problems of space for such groups. The department was housed in one of these buildings [image shown] - this is not the part of George Square I actually worked in but it is very similar. I had an office in the upper areas of the building in what had been a top-storey small bedroom - I imagine it had been a maid’s bedroom - with sloping ceilings. So I held tutorials in that office if I could or, if the lecturer with whom I shared the office needed the room, I took the tutorial in the next room which had been turned into a bathroom - students sat around or even in the bath.
My main area of teaching was specified as Paleolithic and Mesolithic but this in fact was not really my main area of archaeological interest which was at that stage the Iron Age. I taught very widely - world archaeology to huge first year classes as well as human evolution, hunting and gathering, basic conservation, Roman Britain and more. No time and little encouragement to do research on my own. I saw myself as too busy to knuckle down to research - easier to get on with writing more lectures, keeping up with endless publications, marking, counselling students and helping out on other people’s excavations - not a good way to progress up the academic ladder.
I continued to assist on excavations obvious organising the camps run by other staff. Many summers I continued to work with Paddy Christie at her site of the Iron Age settlement of Carn Euny in West Cornwall. This included an underground chamber called a souterrain or ‘fogou’ which goes along that passage [image shown]. That passage has other buildings over the top of it. It comes out into a round chamber, and this is the round chamber being surveyed. I once was in the round chamber excavating it, and some of the workmen, who you can see on the right-hand side working on the site, didn’t know there was somebody there and, instead of putting the stones into the barrow and carefully removing them to the side of the excavation, thought it would be clever to drop them down the chamber. I passed out and there was panic everywhere - but I was fine.
By 1970 I was very dissatisfied - working too hard, get nowhere. I had tenure as lecturer but both university and personal life needed to change. To me I had two choices: East Africa to work with Louis Leakey and his wife Mary - in fact, one of my students had gone there and was working there and had actually married Richard Leakey. She was his first wife. Or Papua New Guinea where archaeological research was just beginning. I had met an Australian PhD student, Jim Allen, years before and he suggested a visit. This was backed up by very practical and positive information about Papua New Guinea by another colleague who had done his PhD in the Chimbu Valley in the Highlands. So PNG won.
I came through Australia, I arrived in Port Moresby in 1971 and was introduced to the archaeologists working in the area. [image shown] This is Sue Bulmer, who was then working at Boera on the coast just outside Port Moresby. She did an enormous amount of work with the World Archaeological Congress. Here she is with Jack Golson, who is here, Peter Ucko and Peter Stone [image shown]. Here she is at the IPPA [Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association] conference in 2006 in Manila.
Sue, an American by birth, then married to the professor of anthropology Ralph Bulmer, was practical and welcoming. She took me out of Port Moresby to see various sites almost the day that I arrived. Ralph was away, and Sue said that I could use his car. It was very old and very rusty. Ralph was a very large man. I had to have three large, thick pillows on the seat to be able to see safely to drive, and my feet were in constant danger of going through the floor. Sue had been the first professional archaeologist to survey sites in the Highlands. Other people had been there, but she did the documentation, recording and documenting possible archaeological sites in the caves and rock shelters of the karst country.
While I was in Port Moresby I went to Motupore Island, which was being excavated by Jim Allen. He had been the first archaeologist appointed to the University of Papua New Guinea but he had returned to Canberra to carry on his research and returned to Motupore to do that research. Burials, pottery and midden debris were found in the flat sandy areas, which you can just see here [image shown]. This is very steep, and we didn’t find occupation areas there, but this flat area here had been extensively used.
There was a large house to provide researchers with comfortable accommodation. It was an ideal location to train students in surveying, excavation techniques, recording, cleaning, sorting finds, especially pottery. I will introduce you to Saem Majnep who had worked with Sue and with Jim and was used to archaeological excavations. Saem came from the Simbi region inland from Madang and had trained with the Bulmers in the Highlands, and he and I went up to the Highlands together. After staying at a series of village houses built for ANU researchers, Saem and I moved on to the village Pari, which was not very far from Kundiawa on the slopes of the Chimbu Gorge. We had no vehicle. We walked everywhere, including to Kundiawa to collect our mail, buy rice, tinned fish, tea and sugar.
We began excavation at a small rock shelter called Omkombogo, which was just above a river. A day or two later there was an accident involving the wife of a big man. He had warned her very severely not to join us because of the ‘masalai’, bad spirits, that he knew were at that shelter. By the time I found her, her foot was crushed by unstable rocks and she had lost a toe nail and was bleeding severely from her feet. We returned to the village where I actually found an expatriate social worker who had arrived in a truck to take her to Kundiawa hospital but was firmly told - quite rightly – that, without the explicit consent of her husband, this was impossible.
Saem and I were left to try to advise as more and more villagers came to see the clearly terrified woman, who soon collapsed into unconsciousness. During the evening I had to prevent water being poured down her throat but I couldn’t do very much else. Saem vanished, and I huddled in the middle of my flimsy walled hut, piling patrol boxes and metal goods at the open door to at least provide me with some notice if somebody came in. By morning the woman had woken, and she would go on to recover slowly, but that excavation was doomed.
Saem, who had sensibly taken refuge with the other Papua New Guinean outsider in the village, the school master, and I struggled through thick mud and drenching rain down to Kundiawa returning with presents of tobacco, material and various other goods. We soon moved on to another less dangerous but very difficult site, and that was Nombe rock shelter where I spent the rest of my excavation period of time.
This rock shelter in the Eastern Highlands was a little further west near the patrol post of Chuave. It had been identified by Sue Bulmer as a potential, possible archaeological site and then excavated by Peter White during his doctoral field work in the mid-1960s. I worked there over four seasons from 1971 to 1975 while I was employed by the University of Papua New Guinea. Sometimes I took undergraduates up there. I was always accompanied by Saem Majnep who, coming from another area in the Highlands, had his own problems with suspicious locals.
I left the University of Papua New Guinea in 1978 to take up a PhD scholarship at the Australian National University and returned to Nombe accompanied by my partner Barry Shaw and our four-month-old daughter Emma, who is here. We were financed by the ANU for which I was very grateful. This is the work from 1971 to 1975 [images shown]:
Here a group of us were walking up from the patrol post to Chauve. It took us about three-quarters of an hour to walk up the hill.
This is Papa Noibano who was the potential owner of the site of Nombe, and I negotiated with people about who was the owner and to whom things should be addressed.
Here is the site itself with workmen Waivo and Noibano carrying the buckets down to the village where we washed everything and then put it out in the sun to dry.
That is Saem, and here are Waivo and Noibano on the sieve.
We as a family first went to Pila village. This is on a road which crosses Mount Elimbari. What I was trying to do there was trying to locate other potential archaeological sites on the back of the mountain of Elimbari. Emma was carried by David successfully walking through elephant grass which was well above anybody’s head and of course was razor sharp on the edges. If Barry or I tried this, we got scratched badly. David appeared to be able to weave his way in and out, and she is fine.
Here is magistrate Nomane who owned the house that we rented for a period of time, and here is the family as we were doing field work. We spent some time on Mount Elimbari and we had various camps on the back of that area.
In 1979 we moved from Pila to Nombe. The original village that Seam and I had stayed in we found had been destroyed in a raid and a new village was emerging.
Here is the new village, Nongefaro [image shown]. This is from the opposite side of the very large valley. We went up there with Waivo. Mount Elimbari is this area here. There is a very steep cliff on that edge all along there. Nombe itself is down here on the bottom of another small cliff. Nongefaro had been established in an area not very far from Nombe itself, which is down here in the trees.
These are local people that we paid to carry our extensive equipment and material up and then back from Chuave to the village and set up our house. Here we have the excavation. There is Jack Golson who came up to visit during this period of time.
Family life was very different in the village from the kind of existence that I had led renting a house before. Since the village had been destroyed, we had to pay to have a house built for us. It had two rooms. This was the workroom at the back and the bedroom and we had a small front room with a fire in it. Here is Emma sitting on the floor, surrounded by buckets, surveying equipment and food. Most things had to be hung up. We had rats quite often visit us during the day and during the night. So equipment, organic material and all our food had to be prevented from being destroyed by these rats. Here is Emma in a little swing that Barry made for her. For the first time since I had visited these areas, I was able to pay the women to look after Emma. The men had been my assistants at the excavations, but now I could give some money to the women. This is Grace with her bilum on the back and Emma in that bilum. Barry was my photographer and field assistant and, as well as doing his own research, he was number one cook and in charge of supplies.
Returning to Canberra we had a great many boxes, including thousands of heavy stone flakes. Barry came up with a very inventive way to pay for these freight costs. We offered to write an article for Air Niugini’s inflight magazine called Paradise, which we did, and in return they flew all our freight back to Canberra.
The research at Nombe has particular importance for the quantities of very well-preserved animal bone, including four extinct animal species which were recovered from the lower areas. I was very grateful and fortunate that Win Mumford, who was working in the Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, exercised her artistic and interpretive drawing skills to produce these beautiful and instructive sections from the site. This is the main section of the site [image shown]. You can see how complex it is and how her beautiful drawings have made very clear the major components of that area.
From the basel levels we got bones reconstructed into an extinct form of Protemnodon. Tim Flannery and I published this as Protemnodon tumbuna of the ancestors. Rather different kind of animal, not all that large, but others have been found now in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea - not alive - I mean other bones have been found. This is one of the most important artefacts which came from the lower levels – a waisted axe. You can see it has been used heavily along the bottom area [image shown]. Unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to say what the relationship between these extinct animals and the humans were. Were humans there at periods of time when there were no animals? Had they hunted the animals? Or were the animals in fact using the layer at times when there was no human activity? It’s not been possible to tie all that together.
Returning to Canberra and ANU, I was very fortunate, after I had finished my PhD, to be able to teach in the faculties where Isabel McBryde was professor of archaeology. Isabel is passionately concerned with the understanding of Aboriginal artefacts and sites in Australia and in the relationships between archaeologists and local Aboriginal guardians and managers of such sites. She always encouraged her staff, especially the women, in our research, our teaching and our fieldwork. [image shown] She is here speaking in 2012 at the return ceremony of the dolerite axe quarry at Mount William, Victoria, which was the centre of an extensive trade and exchange network. Isabel and Rob Paton co-authored the successful nomination to have this significant site placed on the National Register of Important Cultural Places. It is the only site of its type on the register.
I also shared a long friendship with Andrée Rosenfeld in the department, now School of Archaeology and Anthropology, at the ANU. Andrée and I had met while we were both students at the Institute of Archaeology in the early 1960s, along with another colleague Laila Haglund. We all came to Australia, independently, and worked here as archaeologists. Andrée had written a small but seminal and important book in 1968 on Paleolithic Cave Art in Europe, co-authored with her partner Peter Ucko. She then undertook her own extensive fieldwork in Australia establishing Aboriginal rock art research as an important area of endeavour in Australia. Her students, many women and many others now who are not her students, continue this work, which is of a great deal of importance and has gained a lot of interest.
Laila, Andrée and I attended many of the very successful Women in Archaeology conferences in the late 1980s and 1990s. I looked recently on YouTube and saw there was a Women in Archaeology conference held at the University of York only two months ago. I looked at their conclusions and what they were saying and I looked at what had been written in Australia. It seemed to me that there were various changes which have affected women during the span of my own working career.
Firstly, there has been an acceptance of women into the discipline as professional practitioners rather than well-off, unpaid amateurs, or wives and girlfriends, who worked hard behind the scenes but very rarely got any public credit.
Secondly, the establishment of privately employed consultant, or contract archaeology, has increased the number of full-time archaeologists a great deal all around the world. In a paper published last year in Australian Archaeology, the authors established that there are now about 500 paid archaeologists working in Australia. For the first time, women slightly outnumber their male colleagues. Equity in the UK apparently has not quite been reached yet.
Julia Dibden was one of my students, a mature honours student in the 1990s, who then started her own consulting business. She undertook a PhD while keeping her business going and she has succeeded in both.
The third change I see is that there is now a higher proportion of younger people employed as archaeologists both in Australia and elsewhere, which probably reflects the increase over the last 20 years or so of available courses and training. More of these younger archaeologists are women, which leads to the likelihood that there will be a trend to even higher female participation in the future. I hope this trend continues as women mature and manage to combine family and profession. At present, as in so many other areas of work, the number of women holding senior positions in archaeology is very low.
Lastly, archaeological professionals are today working in every single part of the human story, from early hominids to yesterday’s rubbish dumps or in collaborative research with Indigenous communities. Archaeologists are interested not only in the individual artefacts but in the cultures and social groups that have produced those artefacts. Cultural heritage management is concerned with the management and interpretation of places, buildings, landscapes and environments. These are areas of work that appeal to women - I am not saying that men aren’t interested as well. Archaeology does attract a lot of women. I have always had more women than men in the classes that I taught, except at the University of Papua New Guinea, where education for young women lagged well behind that of young men.
These trends are encouraging and extraordinary, but I will end with a caution taken from a 2006 paper by Claire Smith and Heather Burke in which they employ the image of the glass parasol as a barrier held by women themselves. Smith and Burke write:
We are all shaped by perceptions and stereotypes, as well as our own experience, and these can make life as a professional woman quite difficult. However, my personal experience has been that women archaeologists can have a varied, fascinating and highly satisfying career, even if we do not all become Landmark Women. Thank you. [applause]
QUESTION: I actually work here as a host in the Museum and I come from Saffron Walden so I had to be here today to listen to you talk about that. We have some objects in the national collection that are on display in the Landmarks gallery that were donated by the Saffron Walden Museum and they are Aboriginal artefacts. It says who they were collected by and taken over to the UK and have then been returned. I wondered if you knew anything about that process, whether that happened while you were there or?
MARY-JANE: There was an extensive ethnographic collection, some of which had been put there in the nineteenth century. Sue Davies and I actually went to Buckingham Palace to collect some others because the Royal Family have so many artefacts that they want to get rid of them and they pass them out in various places. I don’t remember any Aboriginal artefacts, but it wasn’t my major area of interest at that time. Sue was the ethnographer and anthropologist. I imagine that, since then, people have been through the collections much more carefully and the material has then been returned to Australia, as it should be.
QUESTION: When you were in the area in Cornwall where the rocks rained down on you because the workmen didn’t know you were there, were those buildings underground or had they had been roofed in some other way? It wasn’t clear to me.
MARY-JANE: No, the houses themselves were above ground. There were sensitive stone walls. They would have been roofed with timbers and thatch. The only underground structure was this long passage. We are not sure what was going on there. Souterrains have been found on a number of sites in Cornwall, throughout Ireland and a few in Scotland. They may have been used for storage. Some people thought they were refuges at times of attack or danger. None of the material that we got from that excavation answered the question of exactly what they were for - but certainly storage. Because the temperature is cold, they would have been very good for keeping food fresh.
QUESTION: I was visiting PNG a year before independence and I went to Port Moresby, Lae, down the Sepik River and up into the Highlands and at that stage there was quite a trade in artificial artefacts, if you know what I mean. I think the government clamped down on it later. What I was interested in is how are they preserving their heritage? Have they got a national museum?
MARY-JANE: Indeed they have the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Gallery in Port Moresby and in fact Brian Egloff, who is over there, was one of the first people to establish the national museum in Port Moresby. There was a very small museum when I first went there, but there is now an extensive museum. It’s difficult to find the staff and the qualified people to look after materials. They have very good collections. I have to say that I still have my collections from Nombe and at the moment I am not sending them back to Papua New Guinea. There are problems in finding enough staff to keep the standards of that very beautiful museum up, but there are lots of people trying to do that.
QUESTION: I think Mary-Jane is looking with trepidation on this because I had the fortune to be one of her students in one of the final courses that she taught. I have been enthralled as always - your lectures remain a landmark.
MARY-JANE: Thank you.
QUESTION: I just wondered whether you would like to talk a little bit about some of the recent analyses and perhaps collaborative work that I understand you have been doing with animal bone deposits here in Australia as well as the more recent analyses of your PNG material.
MARY-JANE: Thank you for that, Lorna. Yes, I am continuing to do some research, always with other people these days. There are various new techniques and methods which are always being employed by archaeology. The major thing I want to do is to establish that the stratigraphy that I established - I showed you one of the drawings by Win - and I tried to explain, and we had a lot of C14 dates, can be justified and that more dates can be found, because the radio carbon dates from the 1970s and 1980s are often rather suspect these days. So I need to get material that we can re-date. I am working with Tim Denham particularly to try to make sure that the whole sequence of events that I saw happening from 30,000 years ago upwards to the present is something that really is real and that the dating can be qualified and justified. If it’s wrong, that’s fine; I need to change my ideas; but we need to be able to say whether that was correct or not. [applause]
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Date published: 6 June 2014