History and prehistory: Essential dichotomy or arbitrary separation?

22nd November 2013

Clayton Fredericksen


Last year I was co-applicant on a request for funding to carry out archaeological research at an early contact site in northern Australia. In due course I received the assessors’ comments and, as might be expected in today’s competitive environment, the application was supported by some and not so enthusiastically received by others. A comment by one of the more critical assessors stood out. This particular assessor wrote that although I had expertise in prehistoric archaeology, in his or her opinion I lacked sufficient experience in Australian historical archaeology to ensure that the project would be competently executed. My co-applicants, a professor of history and an historical geographer, expressed more than a little surprise at this statement, with one exclaiming to the effect that he had always thought that ‘archaeology is archaeology, irrespective of the time period under investigation’. To archaeologists this may seem a little naïve but it does succinctly highlight a fundamental issue facing the discipline in Australia; exactly what is ‘historical’ archaeology and does it possess a sufficiently robust identity to justify its separation as a distinct branch of archaeology.

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Fredericksen, C.
History and prehistory: Essential dichotomy or arbitrary separation?
June 2000
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