The Australian tropics provide the ideal setting for the ICAZ 2023 Conference

The 14th International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) Conference was held 8-12 August 2023 in Cairns, Australia – a beautiful tropical location opposite the Great Barrier Reef and surrounded by large expanses of pristine rainforest. Natural beauty and examples of the local aboriginal art were a feast for the eyes of the conference delegates throughout the conference. The organising committee was composed of Melanie Fillios (University of New England), Tiina Manne (The University of Queensland), Patrick Faulkner (The University of Sydney), and Jillian Garvey (La Trobe University). They represented a consortium of Australian universities covering a large area of the country. They did a great job in balancing well-run and efficient proceedings with a relaxed and extremely enjoyable atmosphere. ICAZ conferences have always been friendly and convivial events conducive to very productive academic exchange, and the Cairns conference maintained that proud tradition. 

The conference occurred a year later than was planned in the long-established ICAZ calendar due to the Covid pandemic. The postponement represented a very sensible decision taken by the organisers in agreement with the ICAZ International and Executive Committees. The one-year delay meant that many of the Covid restrictions had been removed, making access to places and facilities much easier.  It is currently being discussed whether the next conference, to be held in Vancouver (Canada), will be held in four or three years’ time – the latter option would bring ICAZ conferences back to their original schedule.

The conference was held entirely in person, without any opportunity for online delivery. The choice was dictated by the extortionate costs of setting up online facilities. Although this was disappointing for the many who would have liked to participate but could not go to Cairns in person, it did make for far more direct communication among the delegates. Additionally, online participation would have inevitably substantially increased the number of presentations and parallel sessions, thus diminishing the proportion of papers that any delegate could attend.  

Holding the conference in Australia was a logical step for an organisation like ICAZ, which strives for full internationality. The greater density of the membership is in Europe and North America, which means that many delegates had to travel far, with the consequent financial and environmental implications. The alternatives, however – holding the conference fully online or having it in the northern hemisphere – were unsatisfactory. It must not be forgotten that one of the ICAZ missions is to promote and support local research communities across the world. In that respect, it was really great to see many Australian students attending the conference. Although the number of delegates was lower than the average ICAZ conference, 254 attendees represented a reasonable number, and their international representation (40 different countries) was impressive (fig. 1, fig. 2, fig. 3). Overall, there was better participation from East Asia, South Asia and, of course, Oceania, than one would normally expect. This was important in terms of making ICAZ more accessible to everyone, at least on a periodical basis.

Fig. 1: © M. Filios.
Fig. 2: Picture of the general assembly © M. Filios.
Fig. 3: Cairns, the vaste Hall of Cairns Convention Center © E. Vila.

The academic programme (see program at a glance here & full program here) was, on average, excellent, though I could obviously only attend about a quarter of the presentations as there were four parallel sessions (but also a rather impressive poster session). The overall theme of the conference was ‘Oceans and Coastline – Past, Present and Future’ but the presented research was worldwide and covered themes across the full range of zooarchaeology investigations. There was also substantial interdisciplinarity and the application of many different methods. Isotopic analysis was very prominent, to the point that it made me long to hear about research that was purely based on traditional zooarchaeology macroscopic analysis. Isotopic analysis is clearly adding new important ammunition to the kit available to zooarchaeologists, but there were cases in which I did not feel that significant progress was being made and similarly vague results based on traditional zooarchaeology would have not been regarded as presentable.  However, I do not want to give a negative impression – inevitably there were some issues but most papers I attended were solid and interesting.

The beginning of each day was introduced by a keynote speech, though the last of these was different as the limelight was given to several researchers (mostly non-zooarchaeologists) engaged with work involving aboriginal communities and addressed to tackle the climate crisis. Though more time would have been required to make the conversation properly take off, this was a very welcome acknowledgement of the fact that Aboriginal people are the proper and rightful custodians of the land where we were meeting. The theme of aboriginal rights ran through the conference – a valuable reminder of the horrific injustices suffered by the natives at the hands of an invading population. The highlight of the keynotes, however, was provided by Diane Gifford-Gonzalez’ impassionate and highly personal account of her life in archaeology. I was not the only one to love her talk immensely.

Like with other ICAZ conferences, there was the opportunity for a number of parallel social and scientific events. The opening reception was partly outdoor, where we could enjoy the warmth of a tropical winter – an unknown experience for many of us. It was just wonderful to hear the welcoming messages while seeing flocks of very noisy rainbow lorikeets and spectacled flying foxes flying above our heads! It almost seemed that the welcome was coming from both the stage and the sky!

During the conference, there was also the opportunity for some of the ICAZ Working Groups to have their business meetings and for the ICAZ committees to meet.  A lot of useful discussion was had, which allowed for a smooth transition from the old to the new committees. The general assembly, which closed the conference, also saw the traditional presidential transfer of responsibility, symbolised by a cow tibia given by the outgoing Sarah Witcher-Kansa to Mariana Mondini (fig. 4, fig. 5). Sarah has been a gracious and wonderfully efficient president and we can expect just as much from Mariana, who has been such a stalwart ICAZ supporter for many years. It is remarkable that the four main ICAZ offices are currently all held by women, representing four different continents! It is really a measure of ICAZ’s success in achieving full internationality and at least some dose of gender equality. Our secretary, Lizzie Wright, could not make it to Cairns but attended the business meetings remotely and sent a pre-recorded version of her presentation. The reason for her absence was a happy one and has in the last few days materialised in a beautiful baby girl called Mae!


There were excursions attached to the conference (I did not take part in any so I cannot comment), but I heard that they were very enjoyable. With such wonderful nature surrounding Cairns, it would have been difficult to go wrong! (fig. 6, fig. 7, fig. 8). Two pre-conference tours covered the rainforest while a post-conference tour went to the famous Great Barrier Reef, for what must have been a memorable snorkelling experience. I experienced it myself a few days later a bit further north, and the memory of a green turtle swimming just below me still makes me smile! 

The very last event was the conference dinner, which was held in the same conference centre where we had the sessions (I haven’t mentioned it, but it was really a wonderful venue). Though the meal itself was terrible value for money, the evening was otherwise hugely enjoyable, and it was concluded with joyful dancing, reflecting the great spirit of conviviality that has always characterised ICAZ conferences.

In conclusion, I have no hesitation in stating that the Cairns conference was a great success. The joy of people coming together after the horror of the pandemic certainly played a role, but much of it lot was also due to our excellent organisers – Melanie, Tiina, Patrick and Gillian – who did all they could to make the conference run smoothly – supporting delegates when needed but avoiding the risk of over-organizing them. We all had a chance to have, when we wanted, some quiet time for ourselves or with selected small numbers of colleagues.

The Vancouver organisers will have quite a job to match the success of the Cairns conference, but I have great confidence that they will manage. They look like an excellent team and the west coast of Canada will be another splendid part of the world to visit. They also clearly expressed their desire to make the conference as environmentally friendly as possible and the opportunity for videoconference will be explored. Meanwhile, vivid memories of the past conference and the beauty of tropical Queensland still enrich our lives. And I haven’t even mentioned the wallabies once!

Fig. 6: Cairns, the Habour © E. Vila.
Fig. 7: Cairns, view from the Esplanade © E. Vila.
Fig. 8: Cairns, view from the sea © E. Vila.


Umberto Albarella est professeur d’archéozoologie au département d’archéologie de l’Université de Sheffield.

Umberto Albarella is a Professor of Zooarchaeology, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield.

Citer ce billet
Umberto Albarella (2023, 18 décembre). The Australian tropics provide the ideal setting for the ICAZ 2023 Conference. Bioarchéologies. Consulté le 19 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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