Bridging the gap between archaeology and science

Liesel Gentelli

Archaeological Scientist and PhD Student

In what sounds like the storyline of an action novel or thrilling film, Liesel Gentelli works to uncover the past and bring treasure to light. 

The archaeological scientist is a PhD student with UWA at the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis (CMCA), currently researching silver coins from ships wrecked off the Western Australian coast hundreds of years ago. 

Her honours thesis offered her the opportunity to conduct a pilot study on silver coins from the WA Maritime Museum, so Liesel now works to analyse where a coin has come from, how it was made and how old it is.

“I couldn't say no to sunken treasure. There’s something very special about holding and looking at coins, knowing they were valued by everyone who touched them. I feel as if I could be another person making a transaction with them and I know it was a devastating blow for people to have lost them in the shipwrecks that sent them my way.”

Liesel Gentelli

Liesel operating a scanning electron microscope at Open Day last year.
Liesel operating a scanning electron microscope at Open Day last year.

As a young girl, Liesel dreamt of becoming a ballerina and even trained full-time in Melbourne for three years after graduating from high school. When thinking of applying to university, Liesel discovered archaeology was one of the first things she might like to study.

“Doing my honours project, I realised that in the field of archaeology, hard science is still something of an untapped resource. Archaeologists don't always know exactly how science can help them answer questions about artefacts, and scientists don't know what questions are useful to answer of an artefact. I aim to bridge that gap.”

About 18 months into her candidature, Liesel discovered she was pregnant and, at the same time, her supervisor left the university, which all contributed to a challenging 18 months in her life. Liesel is most proud of returning to her PhD after maternity leave and sharing her research through publications or conferences.

“For an archaeologist, I think it all comes back to making a human connection through artefacts. Any information that can be added to our shared human history is important, so I really enjoy being able to make my own little contributions to what we know about ourselves. I love having a tangible connection to the past.”

Liesel Gentelli

Her advice for others is to follow their instincts.

“I've found in my research, if something unexpected piques my interest, it is usually worth investigating further, even if it seems silly or inconsequential. Finally, there’s never a perfect time for anything. Don't wait for that time to come along, because it won't, and don't assume that time has already passed, just go and do whatever it is you want to do.”

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