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Professor Mike Smith AM FAHA FSA was a former director of Australian Desert Expeditions, and a member of our Research Advisory Panel since our foundation. He led the research team on our inaugural Arid Rivers Expedition in 2007 and was our resident archaeologist until his passing in October 2022. He had a distinguished career in desert archaeology, which spanned decades.

Mike joined the National Museum of Australia in 1996 and his early work was instrumental in developing archaeological research in Central Australia, showing that Aboriginal groups were already established in the heart of the desert 35,000 years ago.

His 'The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts' (2013) was praised as, ‘landmark works in Australian history’.

 In 2013 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to archaeological scholarship, particularly of the Australian desert regions.

One of Mike’s great pleasures was walking the desert with Andrew Harper’s string of camels, alongside other eminent researchers. Sponsored by Australian Desert Expeditions (ADE), Mike described the experience of ambling across the dunes in his poetic way ‘as like an eclectic walking symposium of desert knowledge’ (Harper n.d.). These expeditions stimulated his interest in megafauna, mikiri wells, grindstone quarries, pituri trade, engraved archaic faces and stone arrangements, all topics on which he subsequently published. 

Mike’s monograph, The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts (Smith Citation2013) was published in 2013 and drew upon his own wealth of desert knowledge, synthesised alongside current understandings of past climates, geomorphic processes and cultural systems. To ensure his book was as fine-grained and accurate as possible, he trawled the grey literature, read unpublished reports and long forgotten theses. Mike perceived Australia’s deserts as ‘stratified in time, stacked one above the other, each one has its own climates, physical landscapes and environments; each its own social landscapes and people.’ He explored each of these areas in this book in breathtaking depth.

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