Dr Billy Griffiths will present his paper, titled ‘Deep Time Dreaming: The History and Politics of Australian Archaeology’, at this week’s History Seminar (Wednesday, 11am). Please note that this is the final History seminar for 2017.
This paper provides an overview of my forthcoming book Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (Black Inc., 2018). The book weaves together biography, history and literature with a variety of landscapes, ecologies and archaeological sites to offer a narrative history of Australian Aboriginal archaeology. It is the story of some of the people, places and ideas that have shaped our understanding of ancient Australia.
The core of the book explores how archaeologists have engaged with the culture and politics of the first Australians and their histories of invasion, dispossession, adaptation and self-determination. The dramatic discovery of Australia’s deep history is intertwined with the reassertion of Aboriginal cultural identity in the second half of the twentieth century. This has not been natural development, but rather a long and often turbulent struggle, with moments of confrontation as well as collaboration. It has forced archaeologists to re-examine fundamental ideas about the nature and politics of their discipline, the legacies of colonialism, and questions of trust and betrayal.
Archaeology will perhaps always face political challenges, not only for the cultural sensitivities of its subject matter, but also because it cannot help but interact with great human stories and symbolic narratives that readily translate into icons, dates and slogans. Like history, it beckons when we search for origins and understanding, and since at least the 1970s it has been bound to questions of national identity. This paper will also reflect on how archaeological insights have transformed and continue to transform national narratives and sensibilities: the remarkable shift from the ‘young’ nation, a footnote to empire, to a continent with an ancient heritage.