Mute or mutable? Archaeological significance, research and cultural heritage management in Australia

01st December 2008

Brown 2008 Figure 1

Cumulative number of recorded Aboriginal sites in teh NSW AHIMS Register (published in Australian Archaeology 67:23).

Steve Brown

In the early 1980s, Sandra Bowdler wrote a series of influential papers which proposed a method for archaeological significance assessment and which examined its role in regard to Aboriginal cultural ‘resource’ management, contract archaeology and research in Australia. Some 25 years later, the meaningful application of concepts around ‘representativeness’ and ‘timely and specific research questions’ appear to have all but vanished in the field of Aboriginal heritage management, and research into Australia’s pre-contact past has slowed. The contributing factors to the evolution of this situation are complex: a combination of static legislative and regulatory frameworks within government, unchanging compliance-driven archaeological practice based on a science model and inductive processes and, in contrast, a dynamic and rapidly changing positioning of Aboriginal people’s relationships with their land and heritage. This paper explores issues around the demise of the concept of archaeological value in cultural heritage management. It highlights the tension between the construction of scientific value for archaeological heritage and the social values of tangible heritage constructed by Aboriginal communities in New South Wales.

Steve Brown
Mute or mutable? Archaeological significance, research and cultural heritage management in Australia
December 2008
67
19-30
Article
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