Archaeology and Managing the Land

Having returned from holiday in New Brunswick I attended an interesting talk the other day by an archaeologist named David Guilfoyle.  He runs an outfit called Applied Archaeology International. What’s interesting is how they do their work, collaborating with the traditional owners of the land.  Specifically, Guilfoyle is working in the Esperance area of Western Australia with the Wadandi and Bibbulmun People.

Typically, contract archaeology companies investigate a locale or site, and clear it for later destruction or preservation.  More often than not the local traditional owners do not take part in the process.  They remain outside the process in many instances.

Guilfoyle and his team, including a member of the traditional owners, a man named Doc Reynolds, came up with a nice idea.  Involve the local community of traditional owners in the process of archaeological preservation.  They conceptualize archaeology broadly, so that it includes more than merely holes in the ground.  It extends to include the landscape shaped by traditional peoples.  The local community is consulted on the preservation projects, they become actively involved in the process of preservation, and they become local employees of preservation projects.  Importantly, they are not merely local labor, but key decision makers and planners of the preservation process.  It’s pretty neat.

The area where they work is a biological hotspot, with ample genetic diversity.  This diversity is also conceptualized as part of the archaeological record and given the same preservation status as any other element.

To the state and federal governments in Australia the local community-based workers have several advantages.  They know the local area, living there in an otherwise relatively isolated spot, and they have a vested interest in making things work.  These elements combine to make them able recipients of government contracts for the care of the area.  This also makes their projects more sustainable inasmuch as they are not reliant upon one single contract or relationship.

Perhaps this idea could be replicated elsewhere and not just in developed countries with laws that protect archaeological heritage.  Other landscapes could be cared for using development dollars that both foster land care, but also create jobs.  Also important in this example is the way the project becomes a part of national reconciliation between aborigines and non-aborigines.

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