2015 John Mulvaney Book Award

The winner of the 2015 Mulvaney Book Award is Geoarchaeology of Aboriginal Landscapes in Semi-Arid Australia, by Simon Holdaway and Patricia Fanning.


In his review of this monograph in Historic Environment, Mike Rowland asks:

Who will find this book of value? Anyone who believes the archaeological record is in places discontinuous in time because geomorphological events have removed a record of particular time periods and that it is also discontinuous in space because it is preserved only in places that are geomorphologically relatively inactive. There are therefore lessons in this impressive and well-presented work for all archaeologists.

This volume is an excellent demonstration of the usefulness of geoarchaeological approaches to archaeology, especially in semi-arid zones where much of the archaeology consists of artefacts on the surface, thus denying archaeologists the use of stratigraphy and contextual analyses. Using Fowler’s Creek as a case study, Holdaway and Fanning demonstrate that space and time show little correlation, because of the variable episodic and discontinuous nature of past uses of the area, demonstrating multiple and complex histories. The authors conclude that Aboriginal visitation correlates broadly with periods of wetter climate, with the increase in numbers of hearths reflecting, not population increase, but preservation. The artefacts at the different locations represent proxies for movement rather than indicating the activities which occurred.

In her review of this volume in Quaternary Australasia Kathryn Fitzsimmons says:

While the book focusses on the Fowlers Gap region, it is clear that the proposed framework is highly applicable to vast tracts of semi/arid Australia, not to mention comparable landscapes across the world. As such, it is a highly useful and timely book for researchers, teachers and students alike.

Geoarchaeology is an important and challenging book.  It shows us new ways of approaching the archaeological record and it arrives at novel interpretations that change the way we regard artefacts and places. It thoroughly deserves the Mulvaney prize.