- Histories of Old Ages: Essays in Honour of Rhys Jones
Beginning in the early 1960s, Australian archaeology witnessed a major revolution. Sparked in part by the arrival of a wave of intellectually aggressive, personally ambitious Cambridge-trained scholars, and fueled by the energy of an unusually bright, equally aggressive collection of "locals," the field exploded with creativity and discovery. Over the next four decades, members of this emergent cohort, their proteges, and successors extended the documented record of human experience on the continent by [End Page 155] nearly an order of magnitude, generated new ethnographic data and applied them in highly innovative ways, pioneered new approaches to the study of lithic and other technologies, cooperated with colleagues in the natural sciences in formulating comprehensive models of prehistoric man-land relationships, and explored various aspects of human impact on the native biota through studies of anthropogenic fire, megafaunal extinctions, and the development of indigenous agriculture. Their efforts put Australian archaeology on the map worldwide. They also made scientific prehistory an important public issue for Australians, more so than on any other continent. The impact on matters ranging from state and federal resource management policy through Aboriginal land rights to the nation's sense of history and self was substantial.
Sydney and Canberra formed the axis on which many of these developments turned. Sydney Uni's well-established anthropology department provided an early and nurturing home for many of the key players, one that was soon matched by similar programs in what were then called the School of General Studies and the Research School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. Bright students and post-docs were drawn in, fieldwork was pushed, theses and dissertations generated. The results were reported in various venues, notably the lively, if sometimes unruly seminars in the (in)famous Friday afternoon Canberra series. Debates once joined often flowed on into the night, usually at the Staff Centre bar. If the best ideas occasionally got lost in the shuffle, it was still a very rewarding time and place to be practicing prehistory.
The work in hand is the fifth in a series of festschriften offered in honor of key participants on the ANU pitch (Anderson and Murray 2000; Macknight and White 1986; Spriggs et al. 1993; Torrence and White 1997). Consistent with the style of its honoree, the ex-patriate Welshman, irrepressible raconteur, and self-styled "wild colonial cowboy-archaeologist," the late Rhys Maengwyn Jones, it is also the most flamboyant. Its 39 parts, drafted by a total of 45 authors, include several accounts of Jones' early life (highly entertaining, if a bit precious in spots), testimony about his personal and intellectual impact on the field (enormous), celebratory poetry (see Carmel Schrire's contribution), some extended "riffs" on amusing topics (Harry Allen's on Blandowski's fish and Les Hiatt's on colonization by elopement are among the best of these), and finally a set of substantive essays on topics of genuine intellectual interest.
For those who did not know Jones personally (and a few who did), these last ten pieces will likely represent the heart of the volume. Their topical coverage reflects the main themes in the Jones oeuvre: chronology, man-environment relationships, and the role of ethnography in research on the distant human past.
Four of them deal primarily with dating. Matthew Spriggs "seeks to illustrate that the basic task of chronology building remains to be achieved in the Pacific, and that different possible answers to the 'when' questions produce vastly different histories for the region." He makes his point by reference to arguments about the age of pottery in New Guinea, the spread of Southeast Asian agriculture through Melanesia, the links between Mangaasi and Lapita ceramics, the possibility of a significant lag between the settlement of East and West Polynesia, and the timing of initial anthropogenic impacts on Pacific ecosystems. As this list suggests, the paper...