Professor Ian Lilley, “UQ’s Indiana Jones”.
Professor Ian Lilley, “UQ’s Indiana Jones”.
29 November 2010

A passion for researching early human settlements has taken archaeologist Professor Ian Lilley to some of the world’s most remote regions, and led to him being dubbed “UQ’s Indiana Jones”.

On field trips he sometimes has no proper shower or bed for a month, and spends his days working in dusty excavation pits.

But his next appointment will be a world way from those circumstances: he will be working among the dreaming spires of Oxford.

Professor Lilley will travel to the UK this week to take up a prestigious Leverhulme Visiting Professorship at the University of Oxford. In the next six months, he will help the university establish a new (coursework) Masters of Studies in Cultural Heritage.

“I will also be doing applied heritage research that will bring together UNESCO, the World Bank, peak mining groups and the world’s largest heritage consultants,” said Professor Lilley, who works in UQ’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit.

“The aim is to develop mechanisms for capacity building in heritage management in the developing world. I will convene a meeting of these groups at Oxford in May to begin developing strategies.

“When I return, I aim to parlay both projects into something of long-term value to UQ.”

Oxford’s archaeology department has become a magnet for UQ graduates and researchers in recent years.

Professor Lilley — himself a UQ graduate — will work in the department there alongside UQ alumni including post-doctoral researchers Drs Michael Haslem and Alison Crowther, and PhD student Michelle Langley.

“In archaeology, cultural heritage and anthropology, UQ is very highly regarded internationally,” he said.

Co-incidentally, two indigenous Australians (including one Queenslander) also have this year begun postgraduate study at Oxford, after they were awarded the inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarships.

Professor Lilley plans to work with the Queensland recipient, fine arts student Christian Thompson, who is researching the collection of Indigenous Australian artifacts at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum.

Professor Lilley is a world-recognised authority on heritage issues and holds a number of significant roles in the field. He is also well-known for his research in Australian and Pacific archaeology, particularly concerning ancient migration patterns.

In 2005 he became a World Heritage Assessor for the International Committee on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the statutory advisory body to UNESCO on cultural World Heritage.

In 2009 he was elected secretary-general of the ICOMOS International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management, and last month he was elected Secretary-General of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, the peak regional professional archaeological body, covering mainland Asia from Pakistan to the Russian Far East, as well as SE Asia and the whole Pacific.

“I hope to use the international professional and industry networks provided by these appointments to add value to whatever initiatives in cultural heritage I help develop when I return from Oxford,” Professor Lilley said.

Professor Lilley’s professorship was awarded by the Leverhulme Trust, under a scheme that allows “outstandingly distinguished” academics from around the world to work in UK universities.

“The key objective of the scheme is to facilitate the enhancement of the skills of researchers and/or teachers at the host institution, although it is recognised that Visiting Professors will wish to use the occasion to further their own academic interests,” the Trust says.

The Trust was established in 1925 under the will of the First Viscount Leverhulme, and now provides about £50 million in research and education funding annually. It operates across all academic disciplines and has funded research projects, fellowships, studentships, bursaries and prizes.

Media: Fiona Cameron, UQ Communications, ph +61 7 3346 7086