Richard Fullagar 1Professor Richard Fullagar

BA, MA(Prelim), PhD, MAACAI

+61 (0) 402 544 810

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  • Professorial Research Fellow

Professional Profile
  • Qualifications: BA, MA(Prelim), PhD, MAACAI
  • Awards/Fellowships: The Bruce Veitch Award for Excellence in Indigenous Engagement (2007); ARC Australian Research Fellowship (1993–1997); ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship (1989–1991)
  • Editor: Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. Monograph Series
  • Editorial Board: Australian Archaeology
  • Associate Editor: Archaeology in Oceania

Key Research Interests
  • Use-wear and residue analysis
  • History of plant food processing
  • Modern human evolution and dispersal into Australia
  • Australian and Pacific archaeology

Use-wear and residue analysis

I have contributed to understanding the function of stones tools, particularly by enhancing and developing methods of microscopic use-wear and residue analysis. After my doctoral research at the La Trobe University, I established use-wear/residue laboratories at the Australian Museum and at the University of Sydney. I have focussed on the identification of plant processing tools by integrating studies of plant residues (notably starch grains and phytoliths) with studies of worn and polished stone tool surfaces. I have also made contributions in the understanding of particular artefact types (e.g. backed artefacts and grinding stones) and archaeological assemblages.

Representative publications
  • Fullagar, R., McDonald, J., Field, J. & Donlon, D. 2009.  Deadly weapons: Backed microliths from Narrabeen. In M. Haslam, G. Robertson, A. Crowther S. Nugent & L. Kirkwood(ed.) Archaeological science under a microscope: studies in residue and ancient DNA analysis in honour of Thomas H. Loy. Terra Australis 30: 248-260.
  • Fullagar, R. 2006. Starch on artifacts. Chapter 9. In R. Torrence and H. Barton (eds.) Ancient Starch Research. California: Left Coast Press. pp. 177-204.
  • Fullagar, R. 2006. Residues and usewear. In J. Balme & A. Paterson (ed.) Archaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analysis. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. Chapter 7. pp. 207-234.
  • Kealhofer, L., Torrence, R. & Fullagar, R. 1999. Integrating phytoliths within use-wear/residue studies of stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 26: 527-546.
  • Fullagar, R. (ed.) 1998. A Closer Look: Recent Studies of Australian Stone Tools. Sydney: Archaeological Computing Laboratory, School of Archaeology, University of Sydney. Sydney University Archaeological Methods Series 6.
  • Fullagar, R. 1993. Taphonomy and tool-use: a role for phytoliths in use-wear and residue analysis. In B. Fankhauser & R. Bird (ed.) Archaeometry: Current Australasian Research. Canberra: Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. Occasional Papers in Prehistory 22, 21-27.
  • Fullagar, R. 1991. The role of silica in polish formation. Journal of Archaeological Science 18: 1-25.

History of plant food processing

Stone tools were used for in plant food extraction and processing by several hominin classes and some other primates (like Chimpanzees) and span all human history. My particular interest has been to explore how plant processing, notably starchy plant foods, may have changed over long time periods e.g. since Australia was first colonised about 50,000 years ago. I have also been interested in food production before and after the Neolithic and particularly among hunter-gatherers.

Representative publications
  • Summerhayes, G.R., Leavesley, M., Fairbairn, A., .Mandui, H., Field, J., Ford, A. & Fullagar, R. 2010. Human adaptation and plant use in highland New Guinea from 49,000 to 44,000 years ago. Science 330: 78-81.
  • Liu, L., Field, J., Fullagar, R., Bestel, S., Chen, X. & Ma, X. 2010. What did grinding stones grind? New light on Early Neolithic subsistence economy in the Middle Yellow River Valley, China. Antiquity 84: 816-833.
  • Liu, L., Field,J., Fullagar, R., Zhao, C., Chen, X. & Yu, J. 2010. A functional analysis of grinding stones from an early Holocene site at Donghulin, North China. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2630-2639. 
  • Fullagar, R.,  Field, J., Denham, T. & Lentfer, C. 2006. Early and mid Holocene processing of taro (Colocasia esculenta), yam (Dioscorea sp.) and other plants at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 595-614.
  • Denham, T.P., Haberle, S.G., Lentfer, C., Fullagar, R., Field, J., Therin, M., Porch, N. & Winsborough, B. 2003. Origins of Agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of New Guinea. Science 301: 189-19.
  • Van Peer P., Fullagar, R., Stokes, S., Bailey, R., Moeyersons, J., Steenhoudt, F., Geerts, A., Vanderbeken, T., De Dapper, M. & Geus, F. 2003. The Early to Middle Stone Age Transition and the Emergence of Modern Human Behaviour at site 8-B-11, Sai Island, Sudan. Journal of Human Evolution 45: 187–193.

Richard Fullagar 2Richard Fullagar 3

Starch grains (left) of Colocasia esculenta taro from the c.10,000 year old artefact (right) from Kuk Swamp in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

Modern human evolution and dispersal into Australia

Aspects of my research include how lithic technology can inform us about the modern human evolution and colonisation of Australia. Studies have included archaeological excavations, studies of stone technology and more theoretical discussion of the kinds of new data required to answer key questions. Much of my current research has emerged from consulting projects.

Representative publications
  • Denham, T., Fullagar, R. & Head, L. 2009.  Plant exploitation on Sahul: from colonization to the emergence of regional specialization during the Holocene. Quaternary International. 202: 29-40.
  • Fullagar, R. 2006. Starch grains, stone tools and modern hominin behaviour. In S. Ulm and I. Lilley (ed.) An Archaeological Life: Papers in Honour of Jay Hall (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit Research Report Series 7). pp. 191-202.
  • Brumm, A., Aziz, F., van den Bergh, G. D., Moore, M., Morwood, M., Hobbs, D., Kurniawan, I. &  Fullagar, R. 2006. Early stone technology on Flores and its implications for Homo floresiensis. Nature 441: 624-626.

Richard Fullagar 4Richard Fullagar 5

Left: Use-polish on a flint grinding slab from the middle Stone Age, Sai Island, Sudan; right:Water lily seed grinding stones used by Aboriginal people at Marralam, NT.

Australia and Pacific Archaeology

I have initiated and collaborated in extensive archaeological research projects within the Australia- Pacific region, with publication of important data sets and review papers on the prehistory of this region.

Representative publications
  • Head, L., Allen, H., Denham, T. & Fullagar, R. 2009. In Australasia. In B. Cunliffe, C. Gosden, and R.A. Joyce (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 28 pp. 866-897.
  • Attenbrow, A. & Fullagar , R. (eds) 2004. A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and anthropology in the western Pacific: papers in honour of Jim Specht. Records of the Australian Museum Supplement 29. Sydney: Australian Museum.
  • Wroe, S., Field, J., Fullagar, R. & Jermin, L.S. 2004. Megafaunal extinction in the late Quaternary and the global overkill hypothesis. Alcheringa 28: 291-332.
  • Slack, M., Fullagar, R., Field, J. & Border, A. 2004. New Pleistocene ages for backed artefact technology in Australia. Archaeology in Oceania 39: 131-137.
  • Fullagar, R., Price, D. & Head, L. 1996. Early human occupation of northern Australia: stratigraphy and dating of the Jinmium rockshelter, Northern Territory. Antiquity 70: 751-73.
  • Dodson, J., Fullagar, R. &  Head, L. 1992. Dynamics of environment and people in the forested crescents of temperate Australia. In J. Dodson (ed.) The Naive Lands: Prehistory and Environmental Change in the Southwest Pacific. Longman Cheshire, Melbourne. pp. 115-159.

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Left to right: Refitted stone flakes from a quarry in the East Kimberley; excavations at the Jinmium site, East Kimberley, NT; The Terrace Site, with megafaunal bones, in the Riversleigh region, western QLD.

Research Projects
  • My appointment as Professorial Research Fellow is under the auspices of Prof. Roberts' ARC Laureate Fellowship FL1301001: Title: Out of Asia: unique insights into human evolution and interactions using frontier technologies in archaeological science.
  • ARC DP120102316: W. Beck, R. Fullagar, J. Burns, K. Kiernan, Title: Indigenous Heritage: Working ancient wetlands for social benefit and cultural understanding. 2012–14 (University of New England)
  • ARC DP110102864: C. J. Clarkson (QEII), B. Marwick, L. Wallis, M. Smith, R. Fullagar, Title: Modern human origins and early behavioural complexity in Australia and Southeast Asia. 2011–1015 (University of Queensland)
  • AINSE Grant No. ALNGRA13517. Dating the use of ancient stone tools. R. Fullagar (University of Wollongong)

Current major projects
  • Analysis of stone artefacts from Kuk Swamp, PNG (with Jack Golson and Tim Denham)
  • Analysis of grinding stones from China (with Li Liu and others)
  • Analysis of artefacts from Cuddie Springs, NSW (with Judith Field)
  • Analysis of stone artefacts from Liang Bua, Indonesia (with Carol Lentfer and others)

Potential Honours and PhD topics
  • Function of stone tool assemblages from key sites under study by CAS
  • McCauleys Beach (Thirroul, NSW) midden: analysis of excavated material
  • Identification, description and potential sourcing of  tool stone from the Pilbara
  • Use-wear/residue studies: experimental databases for specific tool materials (e.g. stone, bone, shell) and specific tasks (e.g. woodworking, harvesting, butchering).
  • Optical profiling and imaging of surfaces

Richard Fullagar 1

Recent excavations at Warkworth, Hunter Valley, New South Wales.

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Last reviewed: 15 August, 2018