As an archaeologist with an office right next to the Nicholson Museum where he often leads school tour groups and classes, Dr Craig Barker is close to lots of history. Here he talks about the objects that tell the story of his work.
Dr Craig Barker’s office is right outside the door of the Nicholson Museum so he doesn’t have to travel far when school groups, students, staff and tourists arrive for one of his classes or tours. When Barker’s not there, he could be in Cyprus at the Paphos archaeological dig that has fascinated him for more than 20 years. We asked him to dig around his desk, and a few of his other obsessions turned up.
I’ve been reading Agatha Christie’s books since I was a teenager and these days I give talks about her. She worked as an archaeologist, with her second husband, in what is now Iraq and Syria. Part of the reason she was so prolific was that she was stuck in a desert dig house for four months of the year with nothing to do but bang out a book on a typewriter. What’s amazing for me is that we have material in the Nicholson collection that Christie actually cleaned. The card has a joke on it that was attributed to Christie but it was really written by her publicist. It says that every girl should marry an archaeologist because the older she gets, the more interested in her he’ll become.
A lot of the Agatha Christie books popularised archaeology and, of course, so did Indiana Jones. I’m a real movie buff and I don’t think educators should be afraid of using popular culture to engage people in what they’re talking about. That hat is great for engaging kids. We just have to point out what’s accurate in the movies and what’s not. I’d give Indiana Jones a high score for fun and a low score for archaeology - he doesn’t spend nearly enough time in the library.
These books represent 20 years of my excavations and research. At the moment I’m going back through them and asking lots of questions like: “What were we doing back in 1999 when we were digging trench 1ZZ?” What we thought then was a Roman wall in Cyprus we now know was a Medieval wall that was reusing Roman architecture. These books let me revisit my thinking when we first uncovered those structures. The popular perception is that archaeology is five weeks out in the field having fun then that’s it. There’s actually far more time spent in the library, laboratory and in museums than in the field.
I’ve spent five weeks a year working in Cyprus for the past 20 years. During that time, we’ve worked closely with the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, which has given us various acknowledgements for the work we’ve done for the country. This one was given to us by the President of Cyprus. It’s just a little handmade replica of a 4500-year-old figurine, but it was great to receive it. You couldn’t imagine an Australian Prime Minister giving a gift to a French team excavating Australian sites. But in Cyprus, they really value what we do.
I just picked this up randomly on a beach in Cyprus and put it in my pocket. It doesn’t look like much, and it isn’t. But if I’m having one of those days, I can look at that pebble and know that there’s still Cyprus. It reminds me of great times I have there with friends and colleagues. It’s probably the most valueless thing here, but in some ways it’s the most sentimental for me. Near where I picked this up is a beach where local myth says Aphrodite was born.
These bandages are about our school holiday programs where we have kids wrap themselves up as mummies. It’s interesting that alongside my academic research I’ll often have kids’ colouring-in sheets - it shows the duality of what I do. I also run a lot of Master of Teaching courses here about object-based learning. To be honest, all a museum really needs to run a great school program for kids is a mummy and a dinosaur. You’re off and running.
I’m happy to call myself a nerd. One of the things you learn teaching children is that you’re never going to be cool so you may as well just go with it. So yes, I’m a Doctor Who fan.
Photography by Victoria Baldwin (BA '14)