Meet Rose Whitau, a student whose Master of Archaeological Science is taking her around the globe to uncover some of the human world’s oldest artefacts.
Rose Whitau has just returned from four months’ fieldwork, where, she says, she’s been “living the dream”.
“I did two months in the Kimberley working on the Lifeways of the First Australians project with Sue O’Connor from ANU and Jane Balme, from the University of WA, then I came back to Canberra for a week and was off again with Sue on the Archaeology of Sulawesi project for another two months.
“In the Kimberley we were finding mostly stone tools, animal remains, some shell and some shell beads, which Sue was pretty excited about. She and Jane will be bringing out a paper about that. It was amazing the number of artefacts coming out of there. At one site, there were more artefacts than there was sediment. It was incredible.
“We were living in a swag, cooking on a fire every night, it was really cool. We had a bunch of Bunuba ladies who came with the female archaeologists to look for some women’s sites, which was a really amazing experience.
“Sulawesi was also such an incredible place to be. We were up in the limestone mountains, staying in a tiny village with 30 families. It was absolutely beautiful.”
Both these fieldtrips were funded by ANU.
“Flights were paid, accommodation, food and everything,” Rose says. “Opportunities for fieldwork differ, but these are typical examples of what you might get to do. It’s just a matter of sticking your hand up and saying you’re willing to work.”
While working in the field with ARC Laureate Fellow Sue O’Connor, Rose says she felt like a part of the team.
“Sue takes students’ opinions on board and she genuinely wants to know what you think about things. It’s been an incredible opportunity.”
Rose has already finished her Master of Archaeological Science, but says current students can negotiate credit for fieldwork such as this. As part of her degree program, Rose went to Tahiti for an internship and research project on paleoenvironments and ecology in the Pacific, as well as participating in an Arnhem Land field school.
Rose comes from a background in classics, but now has her sights set on a PhD in archaeology at ANU. She recommends the Master of Archaeological Science as a “really great bridging course” for those without an undergraduate degree in archaeology.
“I had a literary degree in Latin and ancient Greek, focusing on Roman and early Mycenaean art and archaeology, so I had no science background. The master’s is great because it’s coursework and research so I was able to pick up all the skills and tailor it to suit what I wanted to do. I would definitely recommend it.”
Rose also recommends the facilities available at ANU.
“The labs are incredible. There’s an archaeobotany lab, there’s a pollen lab, there’s heaps of microscopes. They’re incredible resources. With Menzies Library as well, you have access to a lot of Pacific literature, and being in Canberra, you can go to the National Library and everything ever published in Australia is there.”
As well as equipping students for further research, Rose says the program is suitable for people looking to become consultants.
“Many people in the program take it part-time while working as a consultants for professional development. Or you could work in a museum, or work in the public sector, as it gives you transferable skills.”
For Rose, archaeological science is “the best of both worlds”.
“You get to do research and to spend time in a lab, and you get to be out in the field as well,” she says. “I love it. And as with any kind of university degree, it’s a lot easier when you love it.”