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Comparing histories of deserts at 23 degrees South

29 MARCH 2005

A ground-breaking book which explores the comparative human and environmental histories of the southern hemisphere's deserts will be launched at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra tomorrow.

The book, 23° South: Archaeology and Environmental History of the Southern Deserts, comes out of a remarkable conference held at the National Museum in January 2003, which brought together more than 90 scholars from 16 countries to focus on southern deserts in Australia, South America and Africa.

The meeting was the first in which earth scientists, archaeologists and historians had gathered to compare the archaeological and environmental records of the southern deserts.

23° South presents the work of some 40 key researchers, which inspired the National Museum's current exhibition, Extremes: Survival in the Great Deserts of the Southern Hemisphere.

Desert archaeologist Dr Mike Smith, the National Museum's director of research and curator of the Extremes exhibition, edited the book with Dr Paul Hesse of Macquarie University, Sydney.

"We hope this book will promote cross-fertilisation of ideas about deserts, their human and environmental histories, and about approaches and methods of reconstructing those histories," said Dr Smith.

"The desert can be a confluence of ideas, economic systems, and an environmental fracture line where the effects of climate changes are most keenly felt. In this sense it is also a frontier of research."

Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney will launch 23° South: Archaeology and Environmental History of the Southern Deserts in the Bunyip Room at the National Museum on Wednesday, March 30 at 5.15pm.

Dr Mike Smith: The director of research at the National Museum of Australia, Dr Smith is a distinguished archaeologist and museum curator. He pioneered research into the archaeology of arid central Australia.

Dr Paul Hesse: Dr Hesse is senior lecturer in physical geography at Macquarie University, Sydney. He specialises in Quaternary environments, aeolian dust and the impact of global climate change on arid environments.

For interviews, images or a review copy please contact Leanda Coleman on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or l.coleman@nma.gov.au or Sandy Forbes on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or s.forbes@nma.gov.au