Canberra-based archaeologist, Emeritus Professor Peter Bellwood, is still pinching himself having been named the winner of the 2021 International Cosmos Prize, and in so doing being elevated into the company of previous winners, including environmentalist Sir David Attenborough (2000) and anthropologist Jane Goodall (2017).
A fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (AAH) since 1983, Prof Bellwood described the award as an absolute career highlight.
He is the first Australian to have won the International Cosmos Prize, which was first awarded in 1993. He was selected from 171 nominees across 31 countries, a larger field this year given no award was presented in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The International Cosmos Prize is an annual award presented by the Expo'90 Foundation. Its purpose is to honour those who have, through their work, applied and realised the ideals which the foundation strives to preserve.
Expo'90 was an event dedicated to the theme "The Harmonious Coexistence of Nature and Mankind".
Based at the Australian National University, Prof Bellwood is a world-leading researcher into the history of human populations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.
Extending from this, he studies the multiple origins of farming across the world during the past 10,000 years, when agriculture became one of the most important developments in all of human history, fuelling our current global population size and the complexity of our societies today.
Some describe this development as The Agricultural Revolution, because it revolutionised how humans lived their lives and spread their populations and languages.
"I am honoured to be awarded the 2021 International Cosmos Prize, particularly during this difficult pandemic period in the global affairs of humanity," Prof Bellwood said.
"Working in the human sciences, I am humbled to be among so many previous awardees who have attained great distinction within this arena.'
His lifelong commitment to archaeology began as a student at Cambridge University in the 1960s.
"By the 1980s, I was beginning to perceive the importance of food production in global human affairs, as an engine of population increase that led on multiple occasions to continent and ocean-wide dispersals of people, with their cultural and economic lifestyles, their languages, and their genes," he said.
'Our world today, even after the massive population upheavals of the colonial era, still reflects the migrations of early food producing populations in Eurasia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific.
"My goal has always been to expose others to the remarkable achievements of our ancestors, so that those achievements can still inspire us today."