Pits Not Prepared for Archaeology Students


Words || Tess Connery

In an email sent to Grapeshot, a student reported being informed that a unit of study for archaeology students would involve a one hour of lecture and two hours of practical digging experience every week during the semester. Instead, the course will only involve around six weeks of practical digging time. The student reported that they hadn’t received any communication from the University regarding the situation.

AHIS394, ‘Field Methods of Archaeology’, is one of the newest units to be introduced to Macquarie University Ancient History department. This unit, which has been made compulsory for many degrees, revolves around practical experience gained by digging for archaeological material in simulation pits that the University is constructing near Y3A. These pits were not completed for the beginning of the year, despite this being the launch date of the AHIS394 course.

Grapeshot contacted the convenor of the unit, and was passed on to Dr Ian Plant, head of the Ancient History department. He confirmed that the pits were not ready in time for the course to begin – citing the time take to get plans approved –  and that the staff knew about the situation prior to the course commencing.

When asked why the course went ahead despite the pits not being properly prepared, Dr Plant suggested that other coursework had been in place to fill this gap. “We’ve got other tools that you use on site that don’t involve digging in a pit – and so part of the training, as I understood it, would be with those other tools. So, it was a matter of working with those tools initially, and then the pit when it was ready.”

AHIS394 students are now currently completing their practical experience. One of the pits was completed and ready for use during the mid-semester break, meaning that students were able to use this resource for the second half of the semester. This is despite the AHIS394 Unit Guide mapping out a semester that involved excavations beginning in week 4.

When asked about the contents of the Unit Guide, Dr Plant remained vague about what the guide stated. “Well I’d have to have a look at the guide… I mean, I’m sure there’d be nothing in the unit guide that says the university is going to construct a certain number of pits, and that they’re going to be working in those and so on. It won’t say that.”

Whilst Dr Plant was correct in saying that the Unit Guide didn’t mention a specific number of pits, a review of the guide does suggest that students did not receive the course that was advertised. The Unit Guide’s description reads: “The course consists of lectures coupled with direct experience in field techniques of archaeology… The majority of the teaching will take place in the teaching infrastructure (simulated archaeological excavation site) that will be built on campus starting from 2016 where students will practice the new skills acquired during the course.”

Any students dissatisfied with the AHIS394 course are encouraged to arrange a meeting with Dr Ian Plant.