Paper short abstract:
Historically, Australian archaeologists used all manner of containers to carry, sort and store the results of their research. This paper is an art-practice led exploration into the materiality of these boxes, and what they convey about places, people and the practices of a profession.
Paper long abstract:
In 1969 a team of scientists identified ancient human remains in outback Australia. Unprepared for excavation but concerned that the bones might become damaged, the researchers packed the remains into a suitcase belonging to archaeologist John Mulvaney. The individual's remains were carried back to the national capital, whereupon she would become known as Mungo Lady, the oldest known human cremation in the world.
Today, Mulvaney's suitcase is in the collection of the National Museum of Australia, and clearly demonstrates how everyday objects may acquire profound meaning by virtue of what they contain. This suitcase has become a tangible symbol of archaeological discovery and world prehistory but is similarly significant for what it no longer holds; its emptiness conveys the story of Mungo Lady's eventual repatriation to the traditional owners of the region she came from.
Prior to the widespread production of archival management systems, and often as a result of remote area fieldwork Australian archaeologists used all manner of containers available as a means of handling, carrying, protecting and storing. As a result, wooden tea chests, biscuit tins, cardboard boxes and metal cases have become the material expression of archaeological practices: excavation, sampling, sieving, categorising, dating. In this paper, I discuss my creative-practice-led investigation into the materiality of these containers, their text labelling and the sensory effects of encountering their fabric. What emerges from this accumulation of boxes is an awareness of landscape and biography: a network of places, people and collaborations that reflect the history of a developing profession.
Containers / Containment