Digital technology and mass-production might shape the world today, but stone is where it all began, says UNE Archaeology’s A/Prof Mark Moore.
“As the oldest of all technologies, the manufacture of stone tools has profoundly influenced the evolution of our cognitive abilities. So the technological world that surrounds us, and that perhaps threatens our future, can be tracked back to those early hominins breaking rocks on the African savannah over three million years ago,” he says.
From the moment Mark stumbled upon his first stone artefact, his future was set.
“I became fascinated with stone tools when I found a stone arrowhead in a paddock behind the house where I grew up in rural Indiana, USA. I taught myself how to make them as a teenager. Archaeology emerged as the obvious career choice!”
Since then, Mark’s career has taken him to many interesting corners of the world.
“I studied and replicated stone tools from all over the Northern Hemisphere, and immigrated to Australia in 1996 to explore stone technologies in Australia and Asia. It is amazing to rediscover a technological process that was lost many thousands of years in the past.”
Mark’s skills have made some really important contributions to the world of science. He was on-hand in Flores, Indonesia in 2004 to assist when the breakthrough discovery of a ‘Homo floresiensis’ (the ‘Hobbit’), skeleton was made.
“I was the stone tool analyst. It was fantastic to be part of this paradigm-shifting work by a UNE-led research team [led by the late UNE Professor Mike Morwood], and quite a roller-coaster ride to boot.
“It was called the ‘most significant breakthrough in palaeoanthropology in 50 years’ and was nominated by ‘Nature’ as the second-most important discovery across all of science in 2004.”
While Mark spends so much of his time looking at the past, he does so with the help of cutting-edge modern technology.
“Digital methods have completely changed how we conduct fieldwork, post-fieldwork analysis, and even university teaching in archaeology. Ancient DNA studies, only just emerging, will profoundly impact what we think we know about the past,” Mark says.
“At UNE, we have unrivaled expertise in archaeology in Australia, but being a regional university, we have to find ways to make sure our courses can be accessed by students everywhere. We’re the first to offer archaeology completely online, so it’s really important to help them feel connected.”
But even online students have the opportunity for a hands-on archaeological experience, through short intensive courses between teaching periods on campus. It’s often the highlight for students and teachers alike.
“I love taking students through the process of making a stone tool for the first time, and watching the penny drop as they see the similarity between their work and the ancient examples,” Mark says.
Mark will also be back in Flores, Indonesia as part of an ARC-funded team to further explore the story of the Hobbit’s ancestors.