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ASHA NEWS

EVENT SUMMARY: ASHA Reading Group - Interpretation



Caitlin Allen

The first Sydney ASHA reading group session was held in August and hosted by GML. ASHA members from a range of backgrounds including museums, archaeological consultancy and academia discussed a number of articles about archaeological interpretation. This theme was chosen as a lead in to the joint ASHA and Interpretation Australia conference in Tasmania, held in October.

The readings by Francis McManamon, Kenneth Lewis, Tracy Ireland and the NSW Heritage Council encompassed a broad range of approaches to and opinions about archaeological interpretation. Inspired by the readings, the discussion freewheeled through a range of issues including:

  • interpretation is an important way of delivering “public benefit” from archaeological projects. It was noted that this benefit is not well defined or understood.
  • physical evidence (artefacts and in situ remains) as the anchor for the interpretation;
  • interpretation on site during excavation versus interpretation afterwards;
  • whether interpretation without physical evidence (ie: based on signage; leaflets; technology etc.) can work;
  • the limitations of archaeology presented behind glass with a preference for archaeological interpretation to be tactile, experiential and accessible;
  • the checkbox mentality and its impact on quality outcomes;
  • whether interpretation can be a mitigation measure for archaeological site destruction;
  • challenging the idea that there is a correct way to interpret archaeological sites and the popular archaeological interpretations, which may take license with the historic “facts” are to be avoided;
  • developers using archaeological interpretation as a branding exercise;
  • the perception that interpretation is undertaken by experts to educate the general public, rather than by communities themselves (an attitude evident in the NSW Heritage Council Interpretation guidelines).

A number of examples of archaeological interpretation at Parramatta were highlighted in the discussion and so a walking tour of these sites was arranged a few weeks later. A number of ASHA members who hadn't come to the reading group joined us for the walking tour, which included: Parramatta Justice Precinct, where in situ remains and artefact displays are contained in an outdoor courtyard area and there are significant environmental issues that impact the visibility of the remains; sites in Smith Street which include interpretive signage, an artwork made using objects from the excavation and coloured street paving to represent former building footprints; and the very newly opened convict hut site at V By Crown in Macquarie Street, where a large area of in situ remains is visible underneath a new luxury apartment building, along with artefacts, signage and a video presentation of the excavation, conservation and interpretation of the site.


A convict hut site at V By Crown in Macquarie Street, where a large area of in situ remains is visible underneath a new luxury apartment building, along with artefacts, signage and a video presentation of the excavation, conservation and interpretation of the site. (Source: Caitlin Allen)

The next Sydney ASHA reading group event will be held on the 30th November on the topic of industrial archaeology and heritage. Please RSVP to secretary@asha.org.au if you would like to attend or require further details.