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Archaeological Dialogues 14 (2) 155–177 C 2007 Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S1380203807002322 Printed in the United Kingdom
Visions of archaeology. An interview with Tim Murray Gavin Lucas Abstract
Tim Murray has occupied a unique, and at times contentious, position within Australian archaeology. His primary interests in the history of archaeology and theory made him ‘a luxury no department could afford’ in the ﬁeldwork-dominated atmosphere of 1980s Australian archaeology, though he has since gone on to establish himself as a leading ﬁgure in both Australia and the international community. The politics of archaeology has also been a central element of his thought through both his historical work on race and his engagment with indigenous communities in Tasmania. The breadth of Murray’s interests and contributions to the discipline of archaeology emerges very clearly from this interview and highlights issues that remain of central importance to the discipline.
history of archaeology; archaeological theory; archaeological record; historical archaeology; Australia
Tim Murray was born and brought up in New South Wales, Australia and completed both his graduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney during the late 1970s and early 1980s. After working in heritage management and part-time teaching, much of it during his studies, in 1986 Murray was appointed Lecturer in Archaeology at La Trobe University, Melbourne, where he has taught ever since. By his own admission, Murray is something of a maverick in Australian archaeology and is not easily categorized. While clearly inﬂuenced by the New Archaeology and processualism – in part through periods spent at the Universities of Cambridge and Arizona in the early 1980s – he has clearly forged his own intellectual path through the discipline. In particular, his passionate interest in the history of archaeology was built early on, and formed the subject of both his graduate and doctoral dissertations. This interest runs as a central thread throughout his career and, in particular, informs his perception of the role and nature of theory in archaeology. One of his most prominent criticisms of contemporary archaeology is its borrowing of theories from related disciplines, such as anthropology, without rigorously evaluating their applicability to the archaeological record. For Murray this is a critical element in the process of theory-building in archaeology; its absence from
the discourse of theoretical archaeology ﬂows from a failure to recognize the distinctiveness of archaeological records as records of human action, and to appreciate that archaeological data has the capacity to foster new ways of understanding humanity. For Murray, archaeology should not be reduced to a kind of ‘palaeo-ethnography’ but offer something quite unique. Murray’s ﬁeldwork has been no less contentious than his historiographical and theoretical work. Between 1986 and 1993 Murray conducted research in Tasmania, initially as a part of a project exploring the Van Diemen’s Land Company and latterly in a more general project exploring the archaeology of the forests in the north of the island. In the course of this research, he and others at La Trobe University became embroiled in conﬂicts with indigenous communities over the management of archaeological material, which exploded into a political debate within the wider archaeological community in Australia. Many of these differences have since been resolved, and Murray (and his colleagues) continue to work with indigenous communities both on ‘pure’ academic research projects and in the context of heritage archaeology. However, in the past ten years he has been more actively involved in urban archaeology of 19th- and 20th-century Australia, particularly through his work on slums in Melbourne and in Sydney. These projects form part of a wider interest in the role of urban communities and the movement of goods and people on a global scale, which comprise what he calls ‘transnational archaeologies’. This is not to say that Murray has crossed from aboriginal to colonial archaeology; indeed his work, particularly on contact archaeology, shows the importance he attaches to avoiding such distinctions, and indeed much of his theoretical critique of ethnographic approaches to prehistory is a way of asserting the historical dimension of prehistory. Since 1995 Murray has held the Chair in Archaeology at La Trobe University, Melbourne. The following is an edited version of an interview that took place on 28 April 2006 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
How did you get interested in archaeology? I helped my father to collect charcoal samples from under a seed-grinding slab when I was ten. I grew up in the outback of the far west of New South Wales, a place where there was still a large number of indigenous people, many of whom were working in the pastoral industry. My grandfather had been a very serious collector of aboriginal artefacts and he knew many aboriginal languages. He was quite a serious student, but he had never been to school and educated himself with the 1888 Encyclopaedia Britannica. He wasn’t alive when I got interested in archaeology, but there were sufﬁcient stories and cases full of artefacts all through the various houses in the properties that we owned. As an active collector he also donated many artefacts to major museums and fostered the work of other collectors who visited the district, but I was not to ﬁnd out about this until much later on. So I also used to go and collect things, just wandering around. These are very large landscapes where the average property size is some hundred thousand acres, so there was a fair bit of territory for a child to explore and there were artefacts all over the place (ﬁgure 1).
it was really strange as I got taught Feyerabend in traditional . I went to the University of Sydney and since history looked interesting. Feyerabend’s Science in a free society? In part it comprised his responses to the critics of his earlier work Against method. particularly epistemology. ‘Sydney is a very unusual place. written in what can only be described as a forthright style. it has one zoo. The chapter called ‘Marxist fairytales from Australia’ begins. I went for that. That probably got me started but I didn’t intend to be an archaeologist. one opera house and two philosophy departments’. collected in a section called ‘Conversations with illiterates’. He was particularly hard on two Marxist philosophers from the University of Sydney who held no brief for anarchism. I didn’t intend to be anything at all. But philosophy of science and epistemology was taught in both departments. while I was doing the history degree I also started an archaeology degree and then began studying philosophy but I think it was actually philosophy that I liked best of all. the Marxists and the Continental philosophers went into one department which was called general philosophy and the analytical people (all the logicians and the sort of nasty British tradition types) went into a department imaginatively titled traditional and modern. From this you can imagine that these were bracing ripostes. So what was philosophy like in Australia at this time? Have you ever read Paul K.Visions of archaeology 157 Figure 1 Outback Australia. I had no idea of what I wanted to pursue. and I was very fortunate to be taught by some really superb philosophers. What Feyerabend was referring to occurred in the ﬁrst year that I studied philosophy in Sydney when the department split in two.
He was a person of spectacular intelligence.158 interview and modern. The reason why I liked it and 19th-century race theory so much is that it was a combination of two completely disparate strands in Western thought. So race theory got you into archaeology. he was very inﬂuential. I enjoyed that most of all. but he had made his mark on me. but his politics were just foul because he was a very serious racist. what changed my life. The ﬁrst was biological classiﬁcation. However. I was once told by a very senior Australian archaeologist that I was a luxury no archaeology department could afford (either as a graduate student or as a staff member)! So what inﬂuences were there upon your work at this time? I received very strong support from my Ph. I wrote my ﬁrst dissertation on polygenism. and then you continued at Sydney for your doctoral studies? I had to. 19th-century race theory and the work of – perhaps one of the most evil of geniuses – Robert Knox. and I felt that we could both play with concepts in a pretty free kind of way. I had wanted to study under David Clarke but unfortunately he died and then Eric Higgs also died – the two people I was most interested in talking to at Cambridge were dead. And theory. a person of ﬁrm opinions that were also not widely shared in Australia (or elsewhere) at the time. and all the attempted explanations for biological diversity. which link to the Great Chain of Being. and people like Goethe. which was published in 1850. However. when it got talked about. It was exciting! As I said. was cultural ecology or something we would now know as processual archaeology. So the sources of inspiration weren’t only archaeological. And then the other strand is nature philosophy. and Wittgenstein. which was totally focused on doing ﬁeldwork or ‘discovery archaeology’. at the same time I was very strongly drawn to the history and philosophy of science and in particular to Ian Langham. Geoff Bailey (with whom it was great fun to talk about time and archaeological records). speciﬁcally the history of archaeology. Norman Yoffee (whose joking play on Proust I was happy to adopt as the title of my graduate dissertation) . phenomenology and Marxism in the other. I did go away to Cambridge and Arizona for a year and got to know the late Glyn Daniel. I had done an archaeology dissertation on Gordon Childe that presented a very unorthodox assessment of his signiﬁcance in the history of archaeology. With him it was possible to talk theory outside the pretty stultifying oppositions of processual and postprocessual archaeology. Bill Rathje. because although I had got the opportunity to study in Cambridge. I think. Of course that came to an end with his suicide. particularly German nature philosophy and the sort of stuff that gave rise to Romanticism. supervisor Roland Fletcher. but with history. Because of this. The races of men.D. Appeals to authority in the history and philosophy of archaeology’) I was about as odd a beast as you could ﬁnd in the Australian system. and the subject of my doctoral dissertation (which was ﬁnally titled ‘Remembrances of things present. which you see in the work of Linnaeus and Buffon. is an extraordinary book. Colin Renfrew. who did a lot of research on the history of anthropology. is that I got interested in race theory.
should it really be a bit like Kent Flannery’s description of standing on the sidelines giving scores out of ten for how badly you stuffed up something in the past? I think it has to be actively engaged. I eventually came back to Sydney to teach. I do the history of archaeology because I’m in the present and because the history of archaeology can be like a weapon of war. but given my proclivities the prospect of getting a permanent job in archaeology was just zero. Let us now turn to one of your major contributions to archaeology. One of the problems with archaeologists is that so many of them are fundamentally ignorant about the history of their own . the history of the discipline. into the Department of Foreign Affairs (ﬁgure 2).Visions of archaeology 159 Figure 2 Tim Murray. So I was recruited by the federal government. it was terrible. What is the value of historiography to a discipline like archaeology? There is a big dispute between historians of science: should the history of science be for something? Should it play an active role in the prosecution of disciplines? Or. and Mike Schiffer (who got me really interested in archaeological formation processes).
where they say one thing and do precisely the opposite. You can examine all kinds of processual and postprocessual archaeologies quite easily by taking a historical perspective. people are going back into the empirical. when you look at it closely it doesn’t do that at all. Brixham Cave being a perfect example and its connection with the Somme Gravels. Or there is Hildebrand. In the end that will prove to be a positive thing. It has gotten much more interesting. you’ve got to have a means of inculcating budding practitioners into ‘sacred’ knowledge. it has been on this great theoretical eating binge since the 1960s. or where Galileo demonstrated inertia. theoretically no. And I’m not saying this because I’m a relativist. a lot more murky. which ranges back and forth between uniformitarianism and particularism. you’d go back to the classic experiment where Newton demonstrated the corpuscular theory of light. You can also examine the places where people are economical with the truth.160 interview discipline that they don’t actually understand how powerful a tool it can be. it was clear what it meant. answer them and persuade others of the value of what they have done. and you can also see the times when such actions have no consequences as everyone either fails to notice. or between materialism and idealism. Does the history of archaeology tell us anything about the progression of the discipline? Can you say that archaeology has got better? I don’t know about better. but the same sort of questions that were posed in the 19th century are being posed now. The establishment of high human antiquity or the three-age system are seen as being the sacred holy of holies. And of course. It would be fair to say that in 2006 not many people would agree with him! But they are the same questions and we are not actually getting . can history help? Yes. and no doubt will go way too far in the other direction and everyone will start mechanically bean-counting again. There are lots and lots of examples you could use to examine how archaeologists ask questions. because you can see that they are a part of this continuum of debate. and the history of archaeology can provide the touchstone for this. You read the last chapter of Prehistoric times and it’s about Christianity and the role of technology. it should be used to teach with. or ﬁnds it worthwhile to look in the other direction. I think being an archaeologist in Glyn Daniel’s time was a pretty tedious business. For example. but you never want to suspend the critical faculties when you’re evaluating what’s happened. which they are. so that people can see how people persuaded other people of ideas. But at the moment it is suffering quite severely from conceptual indigestion. What is a civilization? What does the human story actually mean? For Lubbock. If you see disciplines as social entities. It will be used again and again in combat. They’re swinging right away from postmodernism now. You could then go to archaeology and do the same. So. and you would see these as encapsulating a process of argument and exempliﬁcation. of how archaeology crept out of the primordial ooze and became a science. So do we do archaeology any better than we did? Can we say things have progressed? Technically yes. It’s much more complicated. Sophus Muller and Montelius constructing typologies for the Bronze and Iron Ages. if you are in the history of the philosophy of science and you are teaching about Newton.
but I don’t think so. So the ﬁrst thing to understand about how you would rehumanize these phenomena archaeologically is that they are multiscalar. I think it humanizes them in a different sort of way. and the conventional readings provided by the practitioners of disciplines cognate to archaeology but not by archaeologists. where I’m working in cities where you can ﬁnd units of observation down to two or three years. You ﬁnd then that your phenomena just disappear right in front of you. And I sometimes get extremely pessimistic. It also explains why archaeologists have not tended to explore the consequences of the very signiﬁcant disconnects between the theories they deploy and the structural properties of the data they subject to analysis. The fear that the past is at root unintelligible. and I have written about this most in terms of the importance of making sense of the ‘dark abyss of time’. That’s the reason I am also working in historical archaeology. but it’s not actually about the immensity or brevity of time. no matter how hard we try to extend the hegemony of the present. It’s not happening now. So how do you characterize this different way? Well.Visions of archaeology 161 better in answering them. To me it seems self-evident that the vast bulk of theories derived from the analysis of human action in other contexts (spoken. and have detailed historical documentation. But even then. for example? In your most cynical moments you could say. especially in prehistoric archaeology. some would say that’s dehumanizing people. what really is happening is that archaeology is being tailored to ﬁt conventional readings of these issues. but it could happen. . and it would look different to what we are doing. Do you think social archaeology is an example of this? Social archaeology of the kind we are doing now frequently doesn’t do justice to the empirical properties of what’s being explored. where I think that I can pursue this goal more easily. especially in prehistoric archaeology. the archaeological record is still pixelated. it’s about the structure of the phenomena you’re dealing with and how you come to articulate this in analysis. is a real and especially powerful form of chronophobia. But acknowledging these difﬁculties and the problems that attend the application of conventional social theory to archaeology should not be the end of the matter. Working out the interplay and integration of all these different lines of evidence into a plausible story – that is our goal. But this can be an immensely hard thing to do. Now. Perhaps we are getting better at working out what will not serve as an answer. That implies that what we are doing is just redeﬁning what we mean by the question – redeﬁning the concept of civilization or culture. It is very useful to tailor the archaeology to ﬁt cultural expectations – I call it normalization or conventionalization. We’ve got to learn how to talk about these things more openly and to be honest about when some things become possible and some don’t. people start talking about the long term and all that. because when you understand enough about the history of disciplines you understand the extraordinary inertia which is built into this.
Throughout that period they start with this idea that they are going to approach anthropology as a higherorder integration of all these things. social/cultural anthropology dominates the other three. which was to produce a higher-order integration where anthropology would be the integration of all four different disciplines. the other is reducing archaeology to a kind of palaeoethnography. linguistics. and which we can contribute to in a way that doesn’t use social/cultural anthropology to completely squash prehistoric archaeology. for the last thirty years of the 19th century. This old idea of anthropology doesn’t privilege any one of those bodies of work theoretically. for example. the number of social anthropologists usually outweighs the number of archaeologists. Its ﬁrst president was Lubbock. Sometimes this is explicit. for example. culture. and where anthropology and archaeology came from. The theory (or more correctly sets of a-priori assumptions) has such strong cognitive plausibility as a means of understanding the present and linking archaeological knowledge with other types of knowledge about human beings. It says that anthropology is the product of integration between all of these things: race. Meaning has been established in conventional terms – who cares if it lacks methodological virtue. there is prehistoric archaeology. with practitioners either ignoring or explaining away the many points where things don’t ﬁt. that it makes methodological shortcomings seem pretty inconsequential. Instead archaeological theories most often come from outside and remain as cognitively plausible abstractions that add little to the sum total of knowledge about the past or the present. That explains why.162 interview written. This is completely at odds with the original project. for example. Can you explain why you have this problem and how it relates to the archaeological record? The best place to start is the 19th century as usual. but by the end of the 19th century they are not talking about that anymore. Evidence for such adaptation is very thin on the ground. or indeed if it is categorically at odds with the structural properties of the data under review? Hence there is not much of a focus on ‘working through’ the theories we have to hand. language and evolution. observed etc. but most often it’s implicit. linguistics and physical anthropology. In American departments. Now the presidential addresses are all about the individual interests of the presidents. But if you look at the politics of this structure. If you look at the four-ﬁeld structure of anthropology. a product of the last 150 years of disciplinary history that now seems natural and completely unremarkable. its second president was Pitt Rivers. The hierarchy is straightforward. You can see it if you look in the records of the Royal Anthropological Institute. The question of the usefulness of social theory to archaeology is just one aspect of your critique. I believe there is a body of theory which we have yet to build. physical anthropology and social/cultural anthropology. We know disciplinary histories have a . which particular anthropological group they are representing. They can do this because there is a hierarchy of plausibility built into what we do. as a signiﬁcant basis of theory-building in archaeology.) have to be adapted to more adequately come to grips with the distinct structural properties of archaeological records as records of human action.
So reading behaviour off this. is now much more problematic.Visions of archaeology 163 way of sanitizing things and what we have is a history written by the victors. largely irrelevant. that we have to actually reinforce these divisions and create some autonomy and integrity for archaeology. aggregations of actions from all over the place. and they are not necessarily directed by identiﬁable groups of people doing identiﬁable things. So having got to that we then ask. Strategically yes. in what way can archaeology inﬂuence social/cultural anthropology? We have seen. My point is straightforward – we actually have by no means exhausted the interpretative potential of archaeological records. Because I do believe that there are higher-order integrations of . which we used to believe we could do unproblematically. It wasn’t inevitable at all and if you read George Stocking. for example. So how do we make it so? We have to face the fact that many of these are short-term. but the goal is still to produce a general theory of anthropology. The history of anthropology tends to emphasize the inevitability of the victory of people like Tylor and Frazer. at least as a strategic initial move. highly speciﬁc ahistorical analyses. as did Childe’s notion of the agricultural and urban revolutions. you can sense there were other possibilities. primarily because social anthropologists are now paying more attention to the way in which people use material things. should our understanding of social process. So in fact the task of integration is a lot more difﬁcult than it ﬁrst looked because we now understand that there is nothing ‘common-sense’ about archaeological data. But I think few archaeologists would genuinely believe that social or cultural anthropologists lie awake at night wondering how to make archaeological data ﬁt into their theories! Material-culture studies is one area which has the capacity to inﬂuence. while others are multiscalar in terms of time. normalized or. that Lubbock’s conception of the evolution of civilization (savagery–barbarism–civilization) had an inﬂuence. This suppresses the ways in which archaeological data can be translated into information about human action. The application of social/cultural anthropological theory to archaeology has generally involved the almost complete marginalizing of crucial elements of archaeological records to the point where they become conventionalized. But surely that means. of human culture. The question then is. and we have not really come to grips with signiﬁcant problems posed by our desire to persist with such conventional translations. be inﬂuenced by archaeological information and by the theories archaeologists build to make sense of it? Yes they should. But I would argue that for archaeology to effectively inﬂuence social/cultural anthropology we have to actually develop a framework within which archaeology talks about society and talks about culture in terms that are not logically circular. at worst. for example. and which can be more effectively constrained by archaeological data. but has this more to do with the contemporary world than with the deeper archaeological past? Indeed the application of material-culture theory to archaeology can be considered to be the most recent way in which traditional theoretical relationships between archaeology and its cognate disciplines have been preserved.
You mentioned earlier the current inﬂuence of material-culture studies on contemporary archaeological theory – why is this another example of what you call conventionalization? Archaeology is not just about material culture. the thumbprint of a potter. That’s the ethnographic scale – it’s rich. the pathologies of a skeleton. I’d be taking notes of where they toss things. like Binford did with the Nunamiut. watching the dog coming around the corner grabbing a bit of bone and taking it outside. but once you have pulled the constituent disciplines of anthropology apart. I ﬁnd it fascinating to read impassioned critiques of the manipulation of archaeological evidence to support dubious social or political goals by the same people who believe that archaeological data should play only a small role in evaluating the plausibility of archaeological knowledge claims. They are not necessarily tied to short-term analysis. The closest we can get to this as archaeologists is in the context of what Binford lampooned as ‘Pompeiis’. By pulling them apart you can create a framework within which their reason for existence is stressed so we are severely diminished by not putting them back together again. Why do we have to have this meta-narrative? Can you live without it? It’s not compulsory. it’s a bit ridiculous to keep them apart. So let’s talk about archaeological data. Why do they need to be studied differently? In the ethnographic context I am a participant observer. as distinct from learning to read and understand material culture in an ethnographic context.164 interview this sort that will help us make general comments about the human condition. you don’t have to sign up to it. this is big anthropology. About what it is to be human and how this has changed over time. where the structural properties of the archaeological record resolve themselves at a temporal scale that might be regarded as ‘instantaneous’. One of the good things about anthropological archaeology was that at least there was lipservice paid to the fact that you should try to see this as a kind of total project. It is material culture in archaeological contexts and the crucial thing for archaeologists is to learn to read material culture and understand material culture in archaeological contexts. But what I’m really talking about is the consequences of taking archaeological data seriously and not just as stuff that can be manipulated at will to serve contemporary social or cultural agendas. This is just one more example of the kind of cognitive disconnect I was discussing earlier. beautiful and chock-full of images and texture. Such as in the reconstruction of a ﬂaking sequence from scatters of debitage. But this is signiﬁcantly different to the kinds . I’d be over there in the corner. I’d be watching people do things. We are only too well aware of the consequences of this. This is big history. A cave bear coming in and everyone (including me) running for their lives. So what is the difference between material culture in an ethnographic context and material culture in an archaeological context. but are taking the perspectives of the grand scale of human history over a period of millions of years.
but it does require practitioners to be properly sceptical about the validity of the theoretical instruments they are using. archaeological data? I think there are two bits of it. rather than to preserve them intact. which for me is between a couple of thousand years and twenty thousand years or so. which archaeology will contribute to. Now I would submit to you that in the vast bulk of archaeological circumstances if you hold the ethnographic scale up as the goal of any reconstruction. But where theory is particularly lacking is in the middle to long term. and the question is. Then there is the stuff whereby we begin to understand what’s happening in the archaeological record at various different scales. and the characterization of ‘behaviour’ is attempted on deposits that are more often than not simply palimpsests. pay attention to the structural properties of the data before you. We have no social theories of the mid-term. it can be done again. design the methodologies and collect the data. becoming human. At the smallest scale there is no question that translating conventional social theory into archaeological analysis poses very signiﬁcant challenges. there is a meta-theory that exists at the big history level. how do you build those [theories]? It has to be done by archaeologists. because in the vast bulk of cases the data you require to plausibly support your ‘interpretations’ simply does not exist at the scale of the observations you can make. historians and anthropologists. because archaeologists are essentially controlling the data that’s there.Visions of archaeology 165 of data prehistoric archaeologists routinely deal with where deposits are time-averaged. we just don’t have it. as seems to be the current psychology of research. minimum chronological units can vary between hundreds and thousands of years. Do you think. then. I have absolutely no issue with archaeologists seeking inspiration and theoretical insights from wherever they might. This is a meta-theory about what people are doing over long periods of time. The issue turns on what archaeologists do with the theories or . archaeology might become a more popular source). and then develop them (through a recursive process) so that they more closely connect with the empirical information you are trying to make sense of. or explanation. what are the observable (hence analysable) units of time? Then take the theory or theories that you were using to ask the questions. and answer basic questions about them such as. We certainly haven’t got anything in the long term. Normally. with the exception of Gordon Childe and people like him. This recursive process can (and should) build theories at all levels. The source of theories is not the issue here (although I believe that as time passes and more archaeological theories are built. developed by archaeologists. So what do you do? For a start. But it is possible. being human. that archaeological theory is in fact equivalent to a theory which is focused on the very speciﬁcs of archaeological material. you’re bound to fail. This will require a quite speciﬁc body of theory. which are more often than not methodological strategies. This is much more than building middle-range theories. It was done in the 19th century. But it most certainly does not mean that archaeology can be the only source of theories. it can be done. That is stuff that we have rarely done.
we have to be ethical when we destroy sites. It has those sorts of things in it. is in fact completely different from what we thought it was. understanding the consequences of that. And now of course it is becoming a little bit theoretical as people . for obvious reasons. A while ago I went back and had a much closer look at the debates that took place in German archaeology after World War II. is revolutionary. The forces that are arranged against this are tremendous. you could do that in chemistry. insofar as saying it was something which we have such difﬁculty conceptualizing. But I’m not actually making it exotic at all. We should also be responsible for the uses to which people put that stuff. This is in fact the ﬁrst time since archaeology was formulated in the 19th century where you have the opportunity to say. It’s very challenging and potentially difﬁcult because in advancing these kinds of arguments you can appear as a dehumanizing person. about how the archaeological record (especially that of prehistoric archaeology) is not a record of those sorts of things. Given the distinctiveness of archaeological records as records of human action I think that these imported theories have to change and be adapted. and we must not stand by and let people misuse it for whatever horrendous political capital they want to make out of it. Yet so much of postprocessual archaeology assumes that to do other than to celebrate the people of the past as knowledgeable actors is to dehumanize that past. That is not anti-humanist. what I have previously called the ‘inertia of tradition’. when in fact you’re not at all. But it doesn’t happen fast. What we are really saying is that for the ﬁrst time in human history. but can you do that to people? Yes you can. Remember. Understanding that. You literally cannot reconstruct the past. why is it so threatening to talk about time? People ﬁnd it extremely threatening because it exposes all of these assumptions they can’t deal with. Many statements that ﬂow from this are not only logically circular but so abstracted from the contexts that are being ‘interpreted’ that we give up the chance to use empirical data to constrain such ‘interpretations’ and substitute for it a potentially specious ‘human essentialism’. So it’s the notion of a return of some form of control over this – for archaeology to participate actively in the uses to which this information is put. as Foucault observed in another context. You can demonstrate this time and again. That it is powerful cultural capital and we must use it responsibly. For a very long time the one thing you never talked about in Germany was theory.166 interview perspectives they deploy. it’s not what we thought it was!’ Now you could do that in physics. I’m a person that really believes that the past is consequential. what we thought was reasonably straightforward. For example. essentially unproblematic. are rather like the application of naive ethnographic analogy? Yes. or even the majority of them. ‘Folks. but it is not a record of them. I also think that those new archaeological theories should then be reapplied to their source areas. The effects of that might be extremely interesting! Would it then be fair to say that you think a lot of applications of social theory in archaeology today. I was once accused of making the past exotic. you can do that in mathematics. you are not going to get to the level of conversation between people.
that’s a Jew. Let us turn to your ﬁeldwork now. It was created to grow ﬁne wool in Tasmania for export to England in response to the continental blockade. There has been much malicious nonsense written about the events that followed. but I started working there when I moved to La Trobe. remember that it’s not a game. could stand there on the railway tracks outside of Auschwitz and as people came ﬁling past. So I dug there and the project blew up. as we attempted to reconstruct the indigenous cultural landscape. that’s a Slav’. this really is serious. if you like. You were involved in research in Tasmania – can you tell me a little bit about that work? The work in Tasmania was essentially doing the archaeology of the Van Diemen’s Land Company. not at all! It’s just that when you’re building it. he would say. There was never any question that the materials were owned by the Tasmanian government. But we have. and you owe a duty of care to people. I could pass as being acceptable company. Consequences are important. in every case by .Visions of archaeology 167 are getting a little bit more used to the idea. The history of archaeology demonstrates this and there is nothing new in rediscovering archaeology’s complicity in the nationalistic or colonialist projects of the 19th and 20th centuries. with reports of some cultural materials returned by another group of archaeologists being thrown into a lake and effectively being destroyed. that we should eschew theory. But I wish people would write about other aspects of the relationship between archaeology and society. and it was misrepresented as a conﬂict between evil archaeologists (colleagues from La Trobe) and indigenes about ‘who owns the past’. This is serious. It was an enormous investment of a million pounds of capital stock and it was a private colonization.000 years. The facts of the matter are much more interesting. on the part of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council. We went to court and there were some harsh words spoken. the professor who hired me. to be as clear as possible about what you’re doing and about the consequences of what happens. ‘that’s a Jew. the race theorist. and the consequences that might have for everybody. People have sought to make the next-door neighbour ‘the other’. such as the discipline’s complicity in breaking down the nationalist project. They knew what could happen. What was in dispute was the future of the materials that were to be repatriated. And the fact that a person trained by someone like Hans Gunther. so I did. But you can see that they stared into the abyss. I’d written about it on several occasions. and people argue that we will never get to be like that again. because of the evil that’s happened in Auschwitz. which was a joint-stock company created in 1825 and is still in existence – the oldest joint-stock company still around. primarily because Jim Allen. And I’m not suggesting. and it’s a powerful tendency. it was the absolute last word in agricultural technology that was being exported. There was a dispute over the analysis of the material. It didn’t stop my interest in theory but it made me more of an Australian archaeologist. which went back some 36. it’s happened again and again and again. It was also a scene of really appalling conﬂict with indigenous people in the area. didn’t want me to do any more theory – he said it was time I got some ﬁeldwork under my belt. it was fascinating archaeology but it was brought to an end by political action.
My colleagues and I felt constrained by ethical considerations concerning the disposal of the material we had excavated. and many of our colleagues were not particularly happy that we argued strongly that the situation would be made much worse if materials were repatriated to an uncertain future when we had not completed our analyses. and then in 2006 Penny and I followed this with An historical archaeology of institutional refuge. unless you can demonstrate the fact that there is all this stuff out there that they didn’t know existed. At root we were in a dilemma. twelve years later. Recently the Code of Ethics of the association was revised in a way that should help resolve future issues of this kind. They now more readily accept that archaeologists have a legitimate interest in the cultural property of indigenous people. Indeed colleagues from La Trobe have reforged very positive relationships with the indigenous Tasmanian community and have been back at work on those collections and undertaking new research for the last seven years. because it is now more broadly accepted that it is in nobody’s interest that cultural properties be destroyed. against the desire of indigenous owners not to accept any form of constraint about the management of their cultural property. and an entirely different situation – people have got used to the idea that you can disagree with indigenous people and still be moral. I published a book with my collaborators Penny Crook and Laila Ellmoos in 2005 (Keeping up with the McNamaras) about the archaeology of immigration in Sydney. Signiﬁcantly the Code of Ethics of the Australian Archaeological Association (as they stood then) enjoined us to ‘preserve and protect’. It was extremely distressing. Life at the Hyde Park Barracks. At root the conﬂict erupted over the question of whether white archaeologists had the right to argue for the importance of preservation. but in the end I feel that there were some signiﬁcant positives. something which I and my colleagues thought we had been doing but clearly were not! Since then I and other colleagues have pursued projects with indigenous communities that are based around a recognition of mutual rights and responsibilities. We felt that we could not do one without being in breach of the other. of course.168 interview archaeologists who did not consult the documentary evidence but who wished to add lustre to their postcolonial credentials. Sydney. For a start the repatriated cultural materials were not destroyed. The fact that we were able to devise clear timetables for completion (everything would have taken less than another year) made no difference. It’s now. but the code also stated that as Aboriginal people owned their cultural heritage we should support this aspect of selfdetermination. You are now closely involved in developing historical archaeology in Australia – how are you ﬁnding moving from a situation of an archaeology dominated by ethnography to one dominated by history? Well. which discusses female emigration . On another level I learned valuable lessons about the need to communicate clearly and effectively with indigenous research partners. I feel entirely at home – with someone else claiming priority over creating the master narrative and being rude about the inconsequential things that archaeologists turn up from cesspits and rubbish dumps! Historians know the right questions to ask and they aren’t even remotely interested in the ones you want to ask.
Visions of archaeology 169 to Australia. what happens to population movement in and out of them. And I feel enormously chuffed that that’s happening because it’s a very good example of having an enormous investment of time and energy to get these things up. what happens when people shift countries. how do you conceptualize the relationship between documentary data and archaeological data? This is a question I lie awake at night wondering about. is much more sensitive to these issues. When you start to assemble these messy databases of assemblages and historical documentation and start to look at patterns generated there you begin to ask a whole set of questions about how communities are formed. because that’s not where the master narrative has tended to be written from. it is about how new communities are formed. and really the only thing that archaeology should do is to provide the artefacts to illustrate an exhibition catalogue. You start with the proposal that there has to be something that will come from the integration of these two different data-sets. In these I advanced the cause for global comparisons as one of the foundations for the archaeology of the modern world. Given that this kind of work involves both intensive archaeological and historical research. you can see some of the material consequences of people morphing: from being Irish to being Australian (for example) over the course of a generation. A very great deal of new information came to light that allowed us to construct patterns of relationships. In talking about colonial identity. But by and large the notion of a tension or triangulation across the different data-sets gets you a little bit happier about the assumptions you’re making about what mixes with what etc. a project I am passionate about. This is one of the reasons why the archaeology of the modern city has become so interesting. In 2006 I was invited to give the Smuts Lectures in Commonwealth History at Cambridge. never looked for. My four lectures. never bothered to enquire after until the archaeologists wanted really basic information about the histories of sites and the people who had lived there. That’s probably . But the really interesting issue is how archaeologists stabilize the narrative and come up with new stuff. Now the thing about historical documents is how many there are that historians just don’t look at. Now our database stretches over a hundred-year period for both Sydney and Melbourne. given their focus on different things – and historical archaeologists (especially in North America) are driving this process. The historian I worked with in Melbourne on the Little Lon and Casselden Place materials. which covered these issues as well as other matters such as trade and technology transfer. written documents. He was the ﬁrst historian that I dealt with who recognized there was a whole bunch of historical documentary stuff. Alan Mayne. chain migration and the functioning of communities. and to explore how people learn to live in a modern city. In each of these projects we’ve had to deal with historians who told us from day one that there is nothing more that they could learn. For when you work at that scale and you get that comparative information together. were given under the general title of Transnational Archaeologies. It is really wonderful where you can literally integrate all the archaeological and historical information in one database and start to play games with it. that most historians of Melbourne had never seen.
You can’t with the archaeology alone. and you ﬁnd that often it is extremely difﬁcult to unambiguously connect the two of them together. I am not pessimistic about us ﬁnding a way through. Now what we did – because it had been seriously worrying me – was to connect deposits on the ﬂoor. the archaeology may not be measuring it. because it’s changing so quickly. I remain hopeful that we’ll get something. But what you’ve got is a massive accumulation of material debris that is very often not connectable to individuals or even to households. but our current approaches are not up to the task. at least in the ways we currently approach it. Naturally we were very interested to see what we could get by way of ﬁne-scale resolution and looked at the movement of artefacts across that space. it’s just got to be treated as one block. We don’t know yet. This is a signiﬁcant problem. if archaeologically they are no different from the other sort? An excellent question. really. and then a yard. in the yard deposits and outside. The cultural and social processes are so complicated. you can link the material to surrounding contexts. you’ve got people you know a lot about. We have a remarkable degree of coincidence in terms of the sorts of patterns we are seeing. Normally when you look at a palimpsest you say there is nothing I can do about this. Depending upon circumstances you can do a TPQ on all the stuff that’s in there. So you’ve got an enormous amount of material culture. You were saying. Conjoinable material would be found in the cesspits. and frequently you’ll pick up conjoins. you have massive palimpsests. all over the area. But dealing with urban sites in particular. you can basically track the transformation from Ireland to Australia in course of the century. So we gridded it in 50-cm squares and we dug them all separately. This was a particularly interesting place because it was a brothel that got transformed into a place of a Chinese residence and then changed again into a Chinese furniture manufacturing shop. We measured everything in three dimensions: it was very precise and what we found is that there was an extraordinary amount of movement. But how does the aggregate data-set like the archaeological data you’re talking about relate to the ﬁne grain? How do the control cases tell you anything. Just a moment ago you were sounding so positive. yard deposits and the cesspit deposits. now you’re saying you can’t archaeologically deal with this question of identity. a major challenge to archaeologists working in this ﬁeld. so you can break into the palimpsest a bit. you can see what’s happening in terms of what people are doing. the sort of archaeological responses. but I’m deeply sceptical about our capacity to get it in every circumstance. but you can if you link the two of them together – you’ve got a better handle on it. really big ones. For example at one site we had walls that related to a house and a series of cesspits behind it. they are moving at such different . so what do you do? It’s really straightforward: you talk about the site as a whole. we are talking about cesspit deposits with thousands of artefacts in them. You talk about the fact that populations are moving in and out and you talk about the fact that whatever ethnic distinctiveness is happening.170 interview closer to the way it actually works.
First published in Murray and Mayne (2001). there are certain patterns that we are seeing in the London data that match very closely what we’ve got in Sydney and Melbourne. we can do all sorts of things. because we are beginning to understand how people are working with material culture and that’s not something that comes from the documentary record. You ask a question like. back to the analysis of the micro-size. a historical archaeology. The way I have thought my way through this is using the telephone dial ﬁgure (ﬁgure 3) which is going up and around to an ever-increasing scale of generalization and then bringing back the perspectives that you get from looking at things at this scale. we know what people are buying. It’s something that just archaeologists see. When you look at the way cities are being provisioned and look at the development of local industries. 1830–1950. I mean we know so much more now than we did.Visions of archaeology 171 Figure 3 Modelling a research strategy into global material culture in urban settings. temporalities and in ways that we don’t really understand yet. There was a system of rag-and-bone merchants and hawkers who were going through those areas and there was recycling of material culture from the top end of society coming down. it really is. where do people get stuff? What are the vectors of accumulation? How are people purchasing things? It’s a lot more complex than people simply going to the shop. We might be able to get a better understanding of how fast things are moving when we understand what people are doing in terms of the documentary data. Beyond that it’s a work in progress. we can see patterns of employment. This is nice. but you’ve also got the export to Australia and other places of poor-quality . But I ﬁrmly believe that we can write an archaeology. that will help us get closer to what is happening. how much money they are earning etc. The archaeology is very gross. As a method it’s beginning to work for us.
at the start of Heart of darkness. Can you explain your understanding of cities as contexts or channels for movement? How you conceptualize cities as focal points for people and things? Let’s take London as an example and contrast it with Sydney. even a quite poor one. which it spits back out again – regionally. The most obvious was that it had a kind of self-perpetuating aspect to it by attracting large numbers of people to work in industries – it became richer as these industries become more complex. its population. I started believing that we could do what was conventionally there about ethnicities and identities and that sort of stuff. It was a place where people came to work. what it might mean to them. London was an industrial powerhouse. the idea of a massive increase in material-culture consumption and what that actually means in terms of the way people conceived of themselves and the world. it had luxury trades.172 interview ceramics. how to make a city in a certain place. Conrad evocatively describes the Thames as the seed of empires. was a combination of many factors. along which has ﬂowed the tide of civilization. because they can afford to do so and it has that self-perpetuating thing. but it was also a place they came to die. London becomes a region of the mind. I am very optimistic. nationally and internationally. There is a theory about cities that is now coming to greater popularity: when people ask how to revive a city. But what that meant and how that translated into notions of gentility and the minute gradations of class and identity are still there for us to explore. the answer is to bring the arts in. An interesting thing about London is that starting in the mid-eighteenth century it was on a growth trajectory that had never. consuming material culture at a rate that’s just astounding by the standards of ﬁfty years before. By 1800 London was already a metropolis (the world’s ﬁrst) and by 1900 it had doubled its population again. It is. and it had the capacity to generate wealth unlike anything that had been seen before. It was also a cultural and social powerhouse. Because it was a capital city and a centre of science and art. And this is despite extraordinarily high death rates from cholera and other diseases. In many of the sites and contexts I have been looking at we are talking about a Victorian household. its resources. So London is this vast sink into which the wealth of Britain and the world pours. it’s just that like many things. and of course Brunel’s great triumph the Great Eastern was built on the Thames too. London was a great industrial centre. Now what made London the way it was. You’ve seen photographs of Victorian parlours so you know that they were crammed full of things. We’re now beginning to understand a little bit more about how people are accumulating stuff and the values they might be putting on them. What happens when cities are wealthy is that they become artistically creative. . attracted by the possibilities. That is an extremely provocative idea. ever been seen before – there was just nothing like it. Many people don’t realize it but half of the imperial Japanese navy was built in London and the Russian navy was built there as well. but I think the real story is going to be different but just as compelling.
In Melbourne it was in the Stone Age until 1835. people. not in the countryside. So in this period cities are both a driving force of change and also in themselves the reason why things are changing so quickly. both as a consumer of things produced in the metropole but also as a producer of raw materials that were sent from the periphery to the centre (very often to return to the periphery as processed goods with much value added to them). With that. cities as sort of powerhouses for the development of 19th-century culture and of global culture. global archaeologist in terms of your thinking and the archaeology you do? The sort of questions that have always fascinated me are not Australian questions. I see them as being part of a historical continuum and there is no particular problem about linking all of these things together. within 60 years a railway was built to the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of the city. It took 50 years for Sydney to become. You’ve got nations created during this period that deﬁne themselves in heterogeneous ways in a world rapidly becoming more . These are places of revolutions. The pace of technological change that hit the Australian continent was extraordinarily fast because it was a product of the Industrial Revolution and the other elements that made up the modern world – large-scale ﬂows of capital. they are global questions. Cities are important. In cities you have political revolutions of the kind you’ve never seen before. and it’s a global phenomenon. parliamentary democracies grow in extraordinary fashion. which were not necessarily the same as those which are being set for them by the metropole. Before 1788 Australia was in the Stone Age.Visions of archaeology 173 Now when you’re constructing cities on the outskirts of an empire. let me then ask a ﬁnal question: what is the relationship between being a mobile. material culture and ideas that tended to sweep all before them. During the course of these transformations the citizens of places like Sydney developed a desire to pursue their own destinies. and as crucibles of human action they are quite extraordinary places. One of the great least-discussed facts of human history is that virtually at the same time as the last piece of habitable land in the Paciﬁc was occupied by Polynesian voyagers. the history of Australia cannot be written without connecting it as a part of a global phenomenon. the origin of anthropology and archaeology are 19th-century predilections that had signiﬁcant impact on Australia but they had signiﬁcant impact everywhere and they literally created the world we live in and the discipline we work in. if not completely self-sufﬁcient. I mean the issue of race. Establishing a city like Sydney was like building a colony on Mars – its success depended on the extent to which it could connect into the modern world system. in 25 years they had built the ﬁrst railway in that city. But to understand Australia you have to understand its position in the world. but also signiﬁcantly sowing the seeds of much more diverse national cultures. governments fall in the cities. Sydney is a good example. which represented the tail end of that ﬁrst great phase of human global settlement that began when our ancestors left Africa. you’ve got Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic starting the next great phase. the evolution of the modern city. then sustainable. for there you have the prospect of understanding a whole phase of an evolution in human society.
it’s about the forces that create the modern world. the fear of the ‘other’. Xi’an. It might help people to get to grips with the idea that although their interests may not be coincident. Communication is the key to this. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Tim Murray for graciously offering to come to Iceland for the express purpose of this interview. rigorous. poor thinking and hiding behind a-priori assumptions about human beings does not help. Murray with Li Liu (La Trobe University) and Zhao Congcang. The calligraphy translates as: ‘diligent. homogeneous than at any other time in human history. poor writing. they have a greater interest in terms of ensuring some form of global conversation everyone can participate in (ﬁgure 4). and creative’. people must be able to talk to each other and obfuscation. If you do archaeology at the global scale it’s about connectedness. What happens when people learn to live these sorts of complex histories and to draw the connections between these massive movements of people which happened in the 19th century and the consequences for the indigenes? And what can we learn from these transnational processes to help us to deal humanely with the ﬂows of people and culture that are happening now and which frighten other people so much. giving rise to considerable social disharmony and to the kind of racism that we thought had been buried? I think it is coming back really fast and it has been laying dormant for all that period. it’s about people. North West University. We’ve got all that happening and the consequences of dispossession for postcolonial societies. PRC.174 interview Figure 4 Archaeology Department. practical and realistic. who made the calligraphy which was presented to Murray. in 2005. it made for an enjoyable encounter . What’s driving it is this same kind of fear.
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