UNE archaeologists take fresh perspectives to Harvard

Published 02 April 2009

harvardArchaeologists from the University of New England will contribute to a new understanding of global migration patterns in prehistoric times when they present their research findings at a Harvard University symposium in the United States later this month.

UNE research – including the University’s leading role in the recent epoch-making discovery and interpretation of the remains of a previously unknown human species on the Indonesian island of Flores – will, when compared and contrasted with the findings of researchers in the Americas, help to form new, global perspectives on those earliest human migrations.

Titled “People Colonising New Worlds”, the symposium on the 17th and 18th of April will bring together Australian and American researchers to compare and contrast their insights into the original colonisation of their respective continents. “In revealing some of the differing theoretical and methodological perspectives characteristic of Australian and American scholarship, the symposium should generate lively discussion and provide an environment in which we can learn from each other,” said Associate Professor Wendy Beck, one of the UNE participants.

Dr Mark Moore, the UNE archaeologist who has carried out a detailed analysis of the stone tools found on Flores alongside the remains of Homo floresiensis (“the Hobbit”), will discuss differences between the stone tool manufacture of the first modern humans to colonise Europe and America, and their much more ancient counterparts in South-east Asia and Australia.

Dr Moore will argue that an “Antipodean perspective” on stone tool manufacture could lead to a comprehensive reinterpretation of the history of Stone Age technology. He will also suggest that social and cultural factors played a much greater role in the development of that technology than the environmental factors more commonly invoked by European and American archaeologists.

Dr Moore’s UNE colleague Dr June Ross will focus on some of those social and cultural features of Aboriginal life when she reports on her studies of rock art in central Australia and north-west Queensland. Dr Ross will use those studies to show how the production of art facilitated social change across Australia in the recent past. UNE postgraduate Ken Mulvaney will present evidence that regional differences in Aboriginal culture began to appear relatively soon after the arrival of the first people in Australia, and Dr Beck, in her presentation, will ask to what extent this richness of cultural diversity could have influenced the Aborigines’ continued pursuit of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

UNE’s Professor Mike Morwood, the co-leader of the archaeological team that discovered the remains of Homo floresiensis, will discuss the South-east Asian origins of the colonisation of Australia.

The symposium has been organised by Emeritus Professor Iain Davidson, who was Professor of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology at UNE from 1997 to 2008, and who is Harvard’s current Visiting Professor of Australian Studies. It will comprise 26 presentations – 13 by Australian speakers, nine of whom are associated with UNE.

After the symposium, Dr Moore and Professor Morwood will travel to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where, on the 21st of April, they and UNE’s Professor Peter Brown will join seven other international speakers in the Turkana Basin Institute’s Seventh Stony Brook Human Evolution Symposium, presented by the famous palaeoanthropologist Dr Richard Leakey. During the Stony Brook Symposium, titled “Hobbits in the Haystack”, Dr Moore will present evidence for his unexpected finding that the modern humans who replaced Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores used the same method of stone tool manufacture as their “Hobbit” predecessors.

Dr Beck, Dr Moore and Dr Ross will present their Harvard lectures tomorrow, Friday 3 April, from 1.30 to 3.30 pm in Lecture Room A3 (UNE Arts Building).