The highest award offered by the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) has been awarded to Australian Museum’s Dr Val Attenbrow. Congratulations to Dr Attenbrow!
Val Attenbrow’s love of archaeology began in the 1960’s during a five-year working holiday in Europe. Although originally fascinated by Classical, Near Eastern and European archaeology, Val later forged a unique and impactful career in Australian Aboriginal archaeology. Her lifetime career has been so significant, in fact, that at the Australian Archaeological Association annual conference held on 10-13 December 2019 on the Gold Coast, Dr Attenbrow was awarded the Rhys Jones Medal.
This highly prestigious award is given annually to recognise outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of archaeology in Australia. Established to mark Rhys Jones’ (1941-2001) enormous contribution to the development and promotion of archaeology in Australia, the medal is the highest honour offered by the Australian Archaeological Association.
Val, currently a Senior Fellow in Geosciences and Archaeology, has been a researcher at the Australian Museum since 1989. She began her archaeological studies in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in 1976, and completed her PhD in 1987. Before joining the Museum in 1989, she was a pioneer in the new field of private consulting in archaeology and was later a cultural heritage officer in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Dr Attenbrow’s research has focused on Holocene period subsistence patterns, resource use, stone tool technology and trade among First Nations peoples, particularly in south-eastern Australia. Her major field projects have been in Upper Mangrove Creek (near Wyong on the NSW central coast) and the Port Jackson catchment (the area around Sydney Harbour).
Throughout her career, Val has worked successfully with First Nations peoples, involving community members in the day-to-day aspects of fieldwork and analysis. She has also strongly championed the use of Aboriginal place names in popular contexts. Her cooperative research covers many aspects of the NSW past, including stone artefact technology and use-wear, geology, land and sea fauna, population history, dating, rock art and ethnography
Dr Attenbrow is well known for her comprehensive book on the Aboriginal prehistory of the Sydney Area, entitled "Sydney’s Aboriginal Past. Investigating the Archaeological and Historical Records" (2002: second edition in 2010) which is still in print. The book is cited by researchers in many fields, and Val regards this as one of the highlights of her career. It won the inaugural John Mulvaney Book Award from the AAA (2004) and was featured in a special display at the Australian Museum.
She has published more than 80 articles, as well as a book with co-author Peter Hiscock (University of Sydney) “Australia’s Eastern Regional Sequence revisited: Technology and Change at Capertee 3”. In 2011 Attenbrow's colleagues at the Australian Museum produced a festchrift entitled "Changing Perspectives in Australian Archaeology" dedicated to her "because she has had a major impact in all the areas of Australian archaeology." In recognition of her many contributions, including Editor (with Dr Betty Meehan) of Australian Archaeology (1989-1992), Val has been made a Life Member of the AAA (2002). She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2009.
In the last decade, following her formal retirement, Val has researched the uses of backed artefacts and has pioneered studies on the sourcing and distribution of NSW stone hatchet heads, with some surprising results, as revealed in a paper in the Journal of Field Archaeology (2018) and in an Australian Museum Technical Report with Nina Kononenko entitled “Microscopic Revelations: The form and Multiple Uses of Ground-edged Artefacts of the New South Wales, Central Coast, Australia” (2019). She is currently supervising several Masters students who are researching the sources of stone axes in areas around Sydney (Illawarra, Hunter valley, Blue Mountains) as well as looking at changes in axe morphology over time. Val believes these projects will keep her occupied for at least another decade.
Dr Val Attenbrow’s significant contributions to Australian archaeology and her lifetime of accomplishments continue to inspire her students, colleagues and all who meet her. A warm congratulations again!
Nina Kononenko, Research Associate, Australian Museum Research Institute
Peter White, Research Associate, Australian Museum Research Institute
- Attenbrow, V.J. (2002) Sydney’s Aboriginal Past. Investigating the Archaeological and Historical Records (hard cover). UNSW Press, Sydney.
- Attenbrow, V. (2010) Sydney’s Aboriginal Past. Investigating the Archaeological and Historical Records (2nd edition). UNSW Press, Sydney.
- Hiscock, P. and V. Attenbrow (2005) Australia’s Eastern Regional Sequence revisited: Technology and Change at Capertee 3. British Archaeological Reports International Series. 1397, Archaeopress, Oxford.
- Attenbrow, V. and N. Kononenko (2019) Microscopic Revelations: The form and Multiple Uses of Ground-edged Artefacts of the New South Wales, Central Coast, Australia. Technical Reports of the Australian Museum Online. 29: 1-100. https//doi.org/10 3853/j. 1835-4211. 20. 2019. 1710.