We are delighted to welcome our next curator, PhD Student in archaeology, Carly Monks/@_CarlyMonks from the University of Western Australia. We asked Carly our usual six questions and here she is in her own words:
I grew up surrounded by family who encouraged an interest in history and the natural world; we lived in the hills, so my brother and I were always exploring outdoors. My grandmother is a historian, and Mum was a wildlife carer for much of my childhood, so I’ve always found the natural and cultural history of Australia to be fascinating. Having said that, I kind of just fell into archaeology! I didn’t know that it was something that you could really pursue a career in until I took a unit in the first year of my undergrad degree. But I signed up for that first unit, fell in love with it, and have never really looked back.
I’m fascinated by how we, as humans, fit ourselves into the various ecosystems that we inhabit. We have an exceptional ability to modify plant and animal communities, and to manipulate resources in a way that benefits us. I find our relationships with animals to be particularly interesting, so zooarchaeology and palaeoecology seems a natural fit.
My PhD research explores some of the ways in which Aboriginal people modified ecological communities and managed important food resources in the coastal plain north of Perth over roughly the last 10,000 years. More specifically, I’m using archaeological and palaeontological records to investigate how environmental changes (like changing sea levels, the arrival of the dingo, and changes in rainfall) and cultural activities (including landscape-scale modifications like burning of vegetation, changes in population density, or changes in the relative importance of food resources) altered faunal communities. I’m interested to know how people’s actions influenced animal populations, how we can see this in the archaeological and palaeontological records, and what it means for our understanding of modern ecosystems.
Why does your work matter?
Imagine you’re given $1 million to create a reserve to house and protect threatened species. You can put up fencing to keep out cats, rabbits, and foxes, but how do you best manage the landscapes in that reserve to provide ideal habitats for a range of fauna? How often should the vegetation be burned to maintain habitats and resources, and at what scale? Do you want the landscapes to reflect those of the mid-19th century, before foxes, cats and other ferals became ubiquitous across Australia? Or even further back, say 500 years ago, before the first Europeans reached the continent? Archaeology and palaeoecology have the potential to help us understand community responses to climatic and cultural changes, and the long-term factors influencing local and regional biodiversity. If this sort of research is combined with that being done by ecologists working on modern communities, there’s real potential to identify and implement land management practices that benefit a range of flora and fauna.
I enjoy trying new things and I love being outdoors, but I’m pretty bad at sticking with any hobbies that involve a schedule. I’m a terrible soccer player but I did play on our departmental team (the nerdily named ‘Retouched Flakes’) for a few seasons, though sadly an injury has sidelined me this year. I’ve also recently taken up yoga to help with recovery, and I love it!
Ideal Day Off: A day with no fixed plans or schedule! My ideal day off would probably involve heading up to the hills with my husband for breakfast and a walk, followed by evening dinner and drinks with a few friends.
Please welcome Carly to Real Scientists!