UNE Professor receives top archaeology award

Published 23 December 2010

iaindavidsonIain Davidson, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of New England, is the 2010 recipient of the Australian Archaeological Association’s highest award: the Rhys Jones Medal.

Professor Davidson is the eighth recipient of the highly-regarded award for “outstanding contribution to Australian archaeology”. The previous recipients include two former UNE academics and two UNE graduates in archaeology.

The medal was presented at this month’s Annual Conference of the Australian Archaeological Association, hosted in 2010 by the Australian National University.

“I was both flattered and surprised,” Professor Davidson said – “surprised because I haven’t concentrated on any one thing during my varied career in archaeology. I was particularly happy, however, that the citation mentioned the fact that I’ve had some very good students, many of whom are now in important positions in Australian archaeology.” He said the prominent role of UNE in Australian archaeology had been established in the 1960s through the pioneering research and inspirational teaching of Isabel McBryde, the second recipient of the Rhys Jones Medal.

Professor Davidson’s research has included work on the Spanish Upper Palaeolithic, the archaeology and ethnography of north-west Queensland, Australian rock art, archaeology and heritage, and language origins. His 34-year career on the academic staff of UNE, beginning in 1974, culminated in his award of a Personal Chair in Archaeology in 1997 and his appointment as Emeritus Professor in 2008.

A Cambridge graduate, he arrived at UNE 12 weeks after the University established an academic department devoted to prehistory and archaeology – later to become the Department of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology. When that department was absorbed into a multidisciplinary School of Human and Environmental Studies, Professor Davidson was appointed foundation Head of School.

While President of the Australian Archaeological Association in 1990-91, he ensured the adoption of the Association’s first Code of Ethics. He was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1994, holds honorary positions at Flinders University, the University of Queensland and Harvard University, and was the foundation Director of the Heritage Futures Research Centre at UNE.

Iain Davidson developed an early interest in hunter-gatherer culture through field work on Palaeolithic sites in Greece, Jersey and Spain. “With this interest in hunters, I came to Australia – the continent of fisher-gatherer-hunters,” he said. Over the years he has been awarded major grants from funding bodies including the Australian Research Council and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to investigate Aboriginal archaeology, rock art, resource use and museum collections, and has worked on projects with Anaiwan, Darug, Gamilaraay, Kalkadoon, Undekerebina, Wankamadla, Wonarua, and Yulluna people.

Following in the footsteps of Rhys Jones himself (the first recipient of the Rhys Jones Medal) and John Mulvaney (its third recipient), Professor Davidson held the Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University in 2008-9, where he organised the 1st Harvard Australian Studies Symposium. Titled “People Colonising New Worlds”, the symposium compared the human colonisation of Australia with that of the Americas. Papers from the symposium are now being published in the journal Quaternary International, and one of Professor Davidson’s current projects is the organisation of this material into a coherent narrative. “I feel very strongly that we need to write narratives about these epoch-making migrations in human pre-history,” he said.

“Professor Iain Davidson is an exceptional scholar of international standing who has made significant contributions to some of the big questions in archaeology – such as the origins of language, and the colonisation of Australia,” said Dr Lynley Wallis, President of the Australian Archaeological Association.  “With his long-term commitment to advancing archaeology in Australia, both through research and his support of Aboriginal people, it is very fitting that his achievements are recognised with this award.”

The Australian Archaeological Association (AAA), the largest archaeological organisation in Australia, was formed in the 1970s to represent a diverse membership of professionals and others interested in archaeology. AAA promotes the advancement of archaeology, provides an organisation for the discussion and dissemination of archaeological information and ideas, convenes meetings at regular intervals, and publicises the need for the study and conservation of archaeological sites and collections. At the end of 2010, AAA had more than 700 members – from historical, maritime, and Indigenous archaeology and cultural heritage management backgrounds.

The AAA Web site is at: http://www.australianarchaeologicalassociation.com.au