One year on: field school participant Zali Boyd publishes first research paper

Mornington Peninsula

The idea for an archaeology field school in Victoria developed in late 2020 when it was apparent that international travel would not be possible for some time. It was originally intended as a temporary stand in for the Papua New Guinea field school. However, Ben figured that it was going to take just as much time and effort to arrange the logistics, so why not make it something special for students who had not had a field school opportunity for the last couple of years and connect them with industry professionals. With this is vision in mind, Ben reached reach out to good friend and colleague, Bianca DiFazio, the Director of Heritage Insight, a well-respected archaeological consultancy company based in Melbourne, and pitched the idea of the field school. It was an ambitious undertaking involving many industry partnerships, but if successful, would be a one-of-a-kind offering in Australia.

And successful it was, particularly for some of the students and participants, who now have a full-fledged career pathway as an outcome. Meet Zali Boyd, for whom the Mornington Peninsula Field School and the PNG Field School were “the most valuable and memorable experiences from her 5 years at ANU.” She ended up being offered a job as an archaeologist and cultural heritage advisor in Melbourne and was working on a research project with Dr Ben Shaw soon after the experience.

Fast forward to last month, Zali Boyd now has her first published research paper, titled ‘Indirect dating of secondary cave burials in the Massim region of Papua New Guinea reveals last millennium reorganisation of social practices’!

We caught up with Zali for a chat about this latest experience.


Congratulations, Zali, on your published paper! Thinking back, how would you describe the impact of the field schools you experienced?

It wasn’t until I got out into the field that I knew that a career in archaeology was feasible for me. The field schools that I participated in made me surer of my trajectory after university – and they made me a better archaeologist. The Mornington Peninsula field school is the reason that I now live in Melbourne, as I fell in love with cultural heritage consultancy and the opportunity to be in the field most days of the week! The PNG field school offered first-hand experience of a culture that was entirely different to what I am used to, yet it was a very welcoming and valuable experience to me.

Tell us more about the publication that you’ve just released.

By reconstructing the vessel forms and matching typographic styles of the sherds, myself and Dr. Ben Shaw were able to fill in some gaps of the archaeological record in the Massim Region of Papua New Guinea for the first time. We first aimed to indirectly date the burials that had once resided in the pots themselves, but quickly found ourselves addressing broader issues such as vessel definitions in order to establish a basis for future papers on pottery in the Massim region. 

I was fortunate enough to visit Biniwaga Cave on Panaeati Island where the pottery sherds were originally taken from. Weder (the landowner of Biniwaga Cave) shared some oral histories with me about Biniwaga and the pot burials that still remained there. I think this allowed me to form a greater connection with the subject of the paper, which is an opportunity that not a lot of researchers get unfortunately.

It is still surreal to me that the paper has been published, and it definitely one of my greatest achievements!

If you had one chance at sharing short “words of wisdom” to someone looking to go down your path, what would these be?

I’ve found that if you have a passion for archaeology, you will find yourself falling into it. My advice is to trust that there is a space for you in this field – and always remember that good archaeologists are highly sought after!

Can you share a funny anecdote from your field school and from your experience of the publication?

“In order to know your future, you must know your past” was a catchphrase coined by Henry Arifeae (a prominent figure from the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery) who accompanied us on the PNG field school. It became a running joke amongst us that Henry would say his catchphrase as often as he could, even when it didn’t make sense to. Sadly Henry passed away in June of this year, but I think of his words often. I hadn’t expected to make such special connections during a field school, but I will cherish these friendships and memories forever.

On the back of those field schools, Zali also went on to undertake ARCH8030/8031, a 12-unit project contextualising an assemblage of pottery collected from a burial cave in the Milne Bay Province of PNG, on Panaeati Island where the PNG field school was held. The pottery was collected in 1935 and was being held in the ANU store, having been put there by Peter Lauer some time ago. 

The Panaeati community wanted the pottery returned and it will go back the next time Ben is on the island. Ahead of repatriation the pottery was investigated by Zali. Through her analysis of the pottery and comparisons with pottery from a nearby site excavated during the field school. Zali was able to estimate the age of the pottery and by proxy the associated burials in the cave - dated to 740-490 years ago.

By contextualising the social aspects of burial and maritime networks in the region at this time she was able to suggest how and why the pottery was placed with secondary burials.

This is a really great outcome for Zali and the field school program.

Southern Massim Combed Pottery (SMCP) and other styles of pottery excavated at the Mumwa site
Southern Massim Combed Pottery (SMCP) and other styles of pottery excavated at the Mumwa site
PNG Field School
PNG Field School

Not sure if you’ll dig archaeology?

Enrol for the Mornington Peninsula Field School and find out, just like Zali did. Enrolments for 2024 are now open! 

Click here for details.

Brooker Island, Milne Bay Province PNG
Brooker Island, Milne Bay Province PNG
View of Panapompom Island from Panaeati Island, Milne Bay Province PNG
View of Panapompom Island from Panaeati Island, Milne Bay Province PNG
Ben and the crew on Brooker Island shortly before a masterclass in opening fresh coconuts
Ben and the crew on Brooker Island shortly before a masterclass in opening fresh coconuts