My family moved to South Australia in the early 1990s and my first memories are of Woomera, a town built around a rocket range in the middle of the desert. Woomera is the word for atlatl in the local aboriginal dialect. Summers were so hot that the Christmas flocking we sprayed onto the window baked into the glass.
When I started my doctoral studies last year, I knew that I had to go back to Australia to experience the archaeology of a landscape that resembles Alaska's in few ways outside of their shared hostility to life. Robert Whallon graciously shared his connections with Jo McDonald at the University of Western Australia with me, who even more graciously invited me to participate in fieldwork at two rock shelters in the Western Desert this summer.
Researchers at the Center for Rock Art Research and Management work with Aboriginal communities to connect rock art to material culture using cutting edge technology and complex ethnoarchaeological approaches. We ventured into the desert with a group of Aboriginal rangers who shared their history with us, offered us kangaroo, and helped collect archaeological samples. I learned just as much from the different archaeological methods and approaches of CRARM researchers as I did from the thoughtful comments and careful actions of the rangers.
These weeks in the desert consistently brought to mind comparisons with Alaska's landscape, present and past, and inspired me to draw connections between these places and people with my dissertation research.
Bree is an Alaskan Anthropologist pursuing her PhD at the University of Michigan.