Are archaeologists missing out on a valuable discovery channel? In the 2018 Tom Austen Brown lecture, Dr Mark Collard, an evolutionary anthropologist, argues that comparative ethnology – comparing and contrasting the features of large samples of human societies – should be a key archaeological tool.
Also known as cross-cultural analysis, comparative ethnology has a long association with archaeology. The pioneering archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers was an exponent of it, and the career-capping book of influential 20th century archaeologist, Lewis Binford, is a work of comparative ethnology.
Dr Collard, a professor in the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, will demonstrate that there are both theoretical and practical justifications for archaeologists to embrace comparative ethnology. He recommends equipping archaeology undergraduate students with this technique, which should enable the discipline to make faster progress with understanding patterns in archaeological records.
This event was held at the University of Sydney on Friday 3 August 2018.
Professor Mark Collard is Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies and Professor of Archaeology and Biological Anthropology at Simon Fraser University, Canada. He has been at SFU for a decade. He trained in archaeology at the University of Sheffield, and then pursued a PhD in hominin palaeontology at the University of Liverpool. He was subsequently a Wellcome Trust Bioarchaeology Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London. In addition to his position at SFU he has held a part-time personal chair in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen in the UK. Professor Collard is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He works on a number of topics in evolutionary anthropology. Among these are the identification of species in the hominin fossil record, the reconstruction of fossil hominin and non-human primate phylogenetic relationships, and the estimation of body mass, stature and age from skeletal material. He is also a leading researcher in using methods and theory from evolutionary biology to investigate archaeologically and ethnographically documented patterns of material culture variation.
The annual Tom Austen Brown lecture is made possible due to the passion and generosity of University of Sydney graduate, Tom Austen Brown (LLB ’46 BA ’74).
In his early life, Tom was a lawyer but had the heart of an archaeologist, often searching for Aboriginal artefacts in the sand dunes and desert flats around Broken Hill, where he lived. Without realising it, he was putting together one of the most significant – yet unofficial – collections of Aboriginal stone artefacts in Australia. He continued to follow his passion, completing his archaeology studies at the University in 1973.
To this day, his passion for archaeology exerts a powerful influence. During his life, Tom Brown gave $1.6 million to the University, and on his passing in 2009, left a $6.9 million bequest to the Department of Archaeology. Through the University’s management, this gift is now worth $13 million. Tom’s bequest has already created the Chair of Australian Archaeology, the first endowed chair of archaeology in the country to include Australia in its brief. There is also the Tom Austen Brown Grants Program for Prehistory, which could lead to scholarships for honours and postgraduate research, awards for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander students, research grants and funding for fieldwork equipment and facilities.
Through his passion and generosity, Tom has helped create a future for Australia’s past.
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