UNE sets high standards in digging for the past

Published 02 July 2008

stonetool.jpgThe University  of New England is leading a national project that is helping universities to ensure that their archaeology graduates are equipped with the increasingly complex range of skills required for understanding and preserving the heritage of the past.

Led by Associate Professor Wendy Beck from UNE’s School of Humanities and Catherine Clarke from UNE’s Teaching and Learning Centre, the project held its second national workshop in May. Academic staff members from each Australian university where archaeology is taught were invited to take part in the Sydney workshop, as well as representatives of archaeological associations, and archaeological consultants working in private industry.

Titled “Benchmarking Archaeology Degrees in Australian Universities”, the two-year project is funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Learning and Teaching Council with additional support from the Australian Archaeological Association.

As a result of the first workshop, held in August 2007, the project team prepared a series of “benchmark statements” outlining the knowledge and skills that all Honours graduates in archaeology should have.

The benchmarking project is part of a wider national movement in archaeology aimed at aligning the preparation of graduates more closely with the requirements of the profession. This began with a meeting of teachers and employers of archaeologists in 2003 which formed the Australian National Committee for Archaeology Teaching and Learning, now chaired by a former UNE academic, Dr Jane Balme.

A leader of this movement, UNE’s Professor of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology Iain Davidson, initiated the establishment of a four-year Bachelor of Archaeology with Honours program at UNE. The completion of such a program, including a fourth year devoted to an individual research project, is now considered the basic Australian university qualification for a work-ready archaeologist.

The UNE program – still one of only a handful of such degree programs in Australia – began in 2006 and now has 20 students. It provides more specialised training than the highly-regarded BA (Honours) program in Archaeology still being offered by the University. It includes Geographic Information Systems, palaeoanthropology and statistics as core units, incorporates the study of a modern language, and requires students to meet rigorous academic standards. “At UNE we can capitalise on the University’s location in a rural environment,” Dr Beck said, “with greater emphasis on fieldwork.”

Kim Newman is in her final year of the new program at UNE, having switched from the Arts/Law and Arts programs in which she began her study of archaeology. “I’ve always wanted to do archaeology,” she said.

Kim, who is particularly interested in research on hunter-gatherer cultures and the use of stone tools, has done fieldwork in Queensland and NSW. “UNE’s Bachelor of Archaeology with Honours program is really good,” she said. “I love the fact that it includes a modern language component. Archaeological research is such an international enterprise that you need to know at least one other language to be part of it.” She learnt Chinese, and enjoyed it so much that she’s now studying towards UNE’s Diploma in Modern Languages.

“Archaeology has become a growth area for employment because of the natural resources boom,” Dr Beck said. “About 70 per cent of archaeologists work in cultural heritage management – identifying and managing archaeological sites and the impact on them of development.

“The new Honours degree is preparing graduates to meet that growing demand, and the benchmarking project is benefiting both students and employers by making standards more explicit.”

A PHOTOGRAPH of Kim Newman (left) and Associate Professor Wendy Beck can be seen by clicking on the stone tool image displayed here.