November 30, 2004

Archaeology Looking to Future, Says Visiting Professor

WHILE archaeology is the study of the past, today it is the future that is challenging those in the field.

According to leading American-based archaeologist Professor Brian Fagan, if thinking about the future is not a priority then much of the past could well be lost.

"Archaeology is changing and we really are at a turning point. Worldwide there is a lot of debate going on," said Prof Fagan who arrived in New Plymouth yesterday.

He said it was vital archaeological sites and resources were well managed to ensure their future.

Prof Fagan is a keynote speaker at the New Zealand Archaeological Association's national conference being held in New Plymouth this week.

The event also celebrates the association's 50th anniversary.

"I guess the anniversary is really time to take stock and celebrate achievements in history but at the same time look forward."

Prof Fagan (68) was born in England and studied archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge. In the early 1960s, he spent six years working at the Livingstone Museum in Zambia as the keeper of prehistory, before moving to the United States.

Since the late 1960s he has been the Professor of Anthropology at the University of Anthropology in Santa Barbara, California.

Prof Fagan is well-known as a leading writer who has helped to popularise archaeological discoveries, with about 45 books under his belt.

He said some sites had the potential to be "loved to death", with locations such as the Pyramids in Egypt, Petra in Jordan and Stonehenge in England, being visited by thousands of people each year.

While the sites were major tourist attractions and contributed to a nation's economy, the "what do you do?" question needed to be asked, Prof Fagan said.

He said ideas that could be explored included replica sites and viewing from a distance.

He agreed current debate in this country about reducing access to our national parks had similarities.

In terms of maintaining the future of archaeology, keeping digs to a minimum and recording and surveying sites was a way forward.

Prof Fagan admitted he did not know a lot about New Zealand's archaeology, but said this country was headed in the right direction in terms of conservation and management.

"There is very good recording of sites done in New Zealand."

The archaeological conference, which is being held at the TSB Showplace, was opened last night by associate arts, culture and heritage minister Judith Tizard.

Prof Fagan would give his address today and at 7.30pm tonight Nigel Prickett would give a public lecture about archaeological sites in Taranaki.

More than 100 people are expected to be in New Plymouth for the conference, which would include field trips and the presentation of papers.