Indiana Jones may not be beloved by all real-world archaeologists, but there is one thing that he has in common with our alumni archaeological explorers: he’s lived a very exciting life.
Archaeology is the study of human history through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains. And, though our archaeology alumni from La Trobe haven’t thwarted Nazi plots or gone in search of ancient alien artifacts (that we know of!), their lives as archaeologists are not without adventure.
Ada Dinckal has travelled the world in his pursuit of history
Ada Dinckal, who holds a Bachelor of Archaeology with Honours from La Trobe (2016), is currently pursuing his PhD. His research is on interpreting site formation processes and Neanderthal behavioural practices at the middle Palaeolithic site of El Salt, Spain, using advanced geoarchaeological methods.
According to his parents, Ada's passion for archaeology was ignited at the age of three when he visited the archaeological site of Bergama (Pergamon). However, it was during his studies at La Trobe that his childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist transformed into a reality.
‘My first year at La Trobe was where I found my genuine passion for archaeology, which was centered in prehistoric periods and exploring how people adapt over extreme time periods and changing environmental situations.’
Ada’s journey hasn't always been easy. While he considers himself fortunate in his career, it has come with its fair share of challenges, including housing insecurity and financial limitations during his post-graduate studies and extensive travels.
‘I’ve lived in three different countries in the last five years. Consistently resetting your life, creating new social networks, and adapting to new languages can be very tiresome and lonely.’
But one of the greatest parts of studying archaeology is its versatility, as it can be related to various personal passions and interests. He believes that anyone can find something intriguing within the field and contribute to our understanding of ourselves.
‘Are you interested in social issues? Empowering social groups? Decolonising our current society? Gender issues? Do you want to highlight the historical depths of social inequality? Archaeology can be and is a key tool in all of this.’
When asked if his life resembles that of the iconic character Indiana Jones, Ada humbly disagrees, suggesting that it isn't quite as thrilling.
‘There is certainly less fighting Nazis,’ Ada admits.
He also thinks it’s important to remind people that Indy isn’t an archaeologist in the modern sense of the word – that it’s much more scientific and far less “tomb raiding”.
‘Indy is probably better described as an antiquarian, someone who goes to foreign places, steals their heritage, and puts it in a museum. Modern archaeologists do this a lot less.’
Coen Wilson is unearthing stories of the past
Currently examining a collection of Acheulian artefacts from the site of Amanzi Springs in South Africa for his PhD research, Coen Wilson (Bachelor of Archaeology with Honours, 2019) is trying to better understand the behaviours of Acheulian hominins that lived at the site half a million years ago.
Coen's childhood in the remote outback of rural Queensland immersed him in the untamed beauty of the desert channel country. He spent his days pursuing wildlife, capturing snakes and frogs, and collecting opals.
‘My dad worked in the natural resource management industry and l accompanied him on many trips to view rock art, stone tool scatters and historical homesteads.’
The exposure from a young age to a range of archaeological material, coupled with living in a small remote town surrounded by a beautiful yet harsh environment, shaped his love for the outdoors and studying past cultures.
‘I believe if I didn’t grow up in the outback, l would be doing a different job today.’
Coen's first field role was through the University, in the Cradle of Humankind Heritage Area, South Africa, at the Drimolen paleo cave.
‘I spent a month digging and learning about a 2-million-year-old cave deposit rich with fossils. I met international researchers and PhD students studying different aspects of the site, including geology, fauna and micromorphology. This was great for learning about the breadth and depth of archaeology and its many sub-disciplines.’
There’s a myriad of reasons that someone should study in this field, but one major one is that archaeology encompasses all time periods and geographic regions where humans lived. Coen recommends it to those who like adventure and challenge.
‘As archaeologists, we’re trying to understand patterns in past behaviours and piece together a complex jigsaw puzzle of cultural material that was left behind.’
On the controversial topic of Indy, however, the jury is still out…
‘Indy’s approach often finds him escaping hidden chambers or running away from bad guys, precious relics in hand, using nothing but his bullwhip, pistol and sheer dumb luck. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality – but he’s not all wrong. To give Indy the last word, forget any ideas you have of lost cities, exotic travel and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.’
Philippe Kermeen swapped out the shovel for scuba gear
Maritime heritage consultant Philippe holds a Bachelor of Archaeology (2020) from La Trobe. His role covers everything from using remotely operated vehicles to monitor underwater cultural heritage, to providing his expertise and counsel on submerged cultural heritage principles. Recently, he became a Scientific Diver, enabling him to engage in consulting projects worldwide.
‘In June, I was on a month-long excavation to investigate a submerged Copper Age pile dwelling site in Zambratija, Croatia. In July, I'm in Turkey to work with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and the Museum of Bodrum on a shipwreck site for three months. And soon I’ll be working in Murujuga Country, Western Australia, where we'll be surveying the submerged environment for indigenous cultural stone tool material.’
For Philippe, archaeology encompasses not only the thrill of discovering something new but also understanding the purpose behind its existence. By providing context to a site, he aims to foster a different perspective on landscapes, material culture, and community engagement with the land and sea.
‘In an expedition of the submerged Murujuga Country archipelago in WA, we had dived to a depth of 15 meters at a site known as Wonky Hole One. We were able to recover six new stone tools from the site, adding to the ever-growing discussion into submerged indigenous cultural heritage.’
However, Philippe's path to success was not without its obstacles. In his first year of university, he tragically lost his brother, which shattered his world. Struggling silently, he didn’t seek help until his third year.
Fortunately, the unwavering support of La Trobe University's archaeology department became a pillar of support during those challenging times.
‘Dr Colin Smith and Dr Keir Strickland approached me and offered me help in furthering my studies. If it weren’t for those two fantastic lecturers, I wouldn’t have become the international marine archaeologist I am today.’
Philippe believes that archaeology offers an ideal career path for those who despise the monotonous nine-to-five routine, adore the outdoors, and above all, have a passion for history.
‘The archaeology community is filled with great people who have the ambition and passion to understand the past.’
But when asked if his job is anything like our famed adventure, Philippe’s thoughts are clear.
‘The guy runs through a crumbling temple with one artefact in hand to save the world. What about the other cultural material inside the destroyed temple?!’