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Museum curator wins top archaeology award

14 DECEMBER 2006

The National Museum of Australia's Director of Research and Development, Dr Mike Smith, has been awarded the nation's highest archaeological award, the Rhys Jones Medal.

Dr Smith received the medal at the Australian Archaeological Association awards in Victoria, hard on the heels of news he had been made a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities.

Dr Smith now heads the National Museum's research program and in his decade at the Canberra museum, has worked on major exhibitions on land and people in Australia and the archaeology and environmental history of southern deserts.

"This is a fitting reward for a leading Australian scholar and researcher. Mike Smith has given the National Museum a lead in where we want to go with our expanded research program," National Museum director Craddock Morton said.

Dr Smith is a veteran desert archaeologist who has combined years of remote area fieldwork with a passion for research. His research at the Puritjarra rock shelter, 350 kilometres west of Alice Springs added 20,000 years to the date of earliest-known human settlement dates in the Australian desert.

"It's has been a fascinating personal journey," Dr Smith said. "Archaeology is one of those rare humanist disciplines that combines the arts, sciences and humanities, bringing together the forensic work of archaeological science, the craft of excavation, the archival research of the historian and the privilege of travelling the desert with senior Aboriginal men and women."

Dr Smith spent nine years as field archaeologist with the Northern Territory Museum and seven years at the Australian National University as a research fellow and later a lecturer in archaeology. He is an Adjunct Professor at the ANU's Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies and was the first PhD student to graduate from the archaeology program at the University of New England.

In the early 1990s Dr Smith worked with Rhys Jones on excavations at the Malakunanja and Nauwalabila rock shelters in western Arnhem land, sites which pushed the dates for Aboriginal settlement of the continent to 50,000 years ago. The team earned a Hansard commendation for the work.

The Rhys Jones Medal was established in honour of Rhys Jones (1941-2001) to mark his great contribution to the development and promotion of archaeology in Australia. The medal is presented annually by the Australian Archaeological Association to a person who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to the field.

For more information please contact Leanda Kitchen on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or email media@nma.gov.au