Student Projects

Current Students

Elspeth "Ebbe" Hayes

Elspeth Hayes

BSc (Hons I) (Geosciences), University of Wollongong, 2010
Supervisors: Richard Fullagar, Zenobia Jacobs & Bert Roberts

Research project
50,000 years of grinding technology in Australia

Ancestors of Australian Aborigines used grinding stones for many tasks since initial colonisation about 50 thousand years ago. A range of forms occur in archaeological sites including manufactured grinding dishes, smaller portable hand stones and large bed rock grinding patches. Although seed grinding is often thought to be the most common function, ethnographically documented functions include the grinding of stone implements (e.g. stone hatchets) and the processing of seeds, tubers, nuts, wood, bone, small animals, shell and pigments (e.g. ochre and haematite).

At the early human occupation site of Malakunanja, Northern Australia, grinding stones and other grinding technologies occur at various concentrations throughout the excavated sequence, spanning a time-frame up to 50 thousand years. Determining the function of these artefacts will provide significant insights into the activities and behaviours of past human occupants. 

Artefact function will be assessed following the characterisation of two main functional traces: residues and use-wear. These will be assessed using a number of transmitted and reflected light microscopy techniques using a combination of stereo, metallographic and Dino-Lite microscopes. The use-wear observed on the artefact surface will be compared to experimental and ethnographic collections of grinding stones, so that specific use-related wear traces may be identified so that artefact function may be inferred. Characterisation of residues will be assessed using a range of analyses, including FTIR, GCMS, biochemical staining and immunological and biochemical tests.  Following these methods of functional analysis, it may be possible to glean artefact function. 

By producing a highly resolved chronology of the site, the appearance (and disappearance) of functional-specific grinding stones may be evaluated. In this way, any changes in artefact function may be temporally evaluated and compared with environmental and demographic data sets, so that potential driving forces of technological innovations may be investigated. The chronology of the site will be produced using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating methods at the University of Wollongong OSL laboratory as part of this research. A number of analytical tests will be conducted on the OSL data set to ensure the most accurate and precise ages are obtained.

Other functional data sets of Australian ground stone tools from early human occupation sites will be used as a comparison, so that spatial and temporal changes of grinding stone use may be assessed.

  • Hayes, E.H., Fullagar, R.F., Clarkson, C.J, O’Connor, S. Submitted. Usewear on the platform: ’use-flakes’ and ‘retouch-flakes’ from northern Australia and Timor. BAR Research Papers
  • Jacobs, Z., Hayes, E.H., Roberts, R.G., Galbraith, R.F., Henshilwood, C.S. 2013. An improved OSL chronology for the Still Bay layers at  Blombos Cave, South Africa: Further tess of single-grain dating procedures and a re-evaluation of the timing of the Still Bay industry across southern Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science. 40: 579-594

Yujie Guo

YujieGuoPhotoMSc (Quaternary Geology), Peking University, 2012
BSc (Geosciences), Shandong University of Science and Technology, 2009
Supervisors: Bert Roberts & Bo Li 

Early human occupation of the Nihewan Basin in north China from the late Middle Pleistocene to the Late Pleistocene based on luminescence dating

The Nihewan Basin, located in north China, is a fault-controlled basin. It is currently filled with thick (from tens to over 1000 meters) fluvio-lacustrine deposits (the so-called 'Nihewan Formation') capped with wind-blown loess. It was suggested that the Nihewan Formation mainly accumulated in and around a large weak to semi-saline paleo-lake (the so-called 'Nihewan Paleo-lake') from late Pliocene to ca.260 ka ago. This thick, continuous, fluvio-lacustrine deposit contains rich assemblages of artefacts and mammalian fossils, making the Nihewan Basin a key region to study paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental changes and Paleolithic archaeology in China and East Asia more broadly. There are over 100 Paleolithic sites have been discovered so far in the Nihewan Basin, which span the entire Pleistocene and the Lower to Upper Paleolithic stages. However, because of frequent tectonic activities in this region and lack of reliable chronological constraints, it has been difficult for scientists to establish the evolutionary history of the Nihewan Paleo-lake and to explore the occupation history of early humans in this area.

My project focuses on the geological period from the late Middle to Late Pleistocene, for during this period 1) the Nihewan Paleo-lake has been drying up; 2) paleolithic in this basin has been transited from Lower Paleolithic to Upper Paleolithic stage; 3) the small tool industry which has been existed in this basin from Early Pleistocene has been shifted to microlithic industry around LGM. In my project, I selected several representative Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites in the eastern part of the Nihewan Basin to study, and have systematically samples from these sites. I will provide a reliable chronology for these Paleolithic sites using OSL and IRSL dating methods on quartz and feldspar grains. Specifically I will firstly test the new MET-pIRIR dating protocol on fluvio-lacustrine deposits of the Nihewan Basin. Based on the ages of samples from the Nihewan Formation and capped loess, I plan to determine the timing of the drying of the Nihewan Paleo-lake in the eastern part of the Nihewan Basin. By linking the cultural layers of these sites and some other Paleolithic sites with reliable ages to glacial/interglacial cycles, I will further to study when (glacial or interglacial) had the early humans occupied the Nihewan Basin during the period from late Middle to Late Pleistocene and how early humans adapted to surrounding environment and climate.

  • Yu-Jie Guo, Jia-Fu Zhang, Wei-Li Qiu, Gang Hu, Mao-Guo Zhuang, Li-Ping Zhou. 2012. Luminescence dating of the Yellow River terraces in the Hukou area, China. Quaternary Geochronology 10, 129-135.

Nathan Jankowski

Nathan Jankowski

BSc Adv (Hons) (Physical Geography/Geology), University of Wollongong, 2009
Supervisors: Zenobia Jacobs, Paul Goldberg (Boston University) & Bert Roberts

Research project
cHRonologies in context: in situ single-grain OSL dating of Pech de L’Azé IV, a Neanderthal occupation site in southwestern France

Neanderthals have had a bad rap since they were first discovered more than 150 years ago. Pitted as brutish, knuckle dragging, ape-men by early scholars, the enduring image of the thick-witted Neanderthal has slowly morphed into a clever, symbolic and resourceful species, thanks to a number of recent discoveries in western Europe. However, the timing of the emergence of ‘modern’ behaviour in Neanderthals is still under investigation. This project, as part of a large investigation into Neanderthal behaviour, is focused on providing the chronology for Pech de L’Azé IV, a Neandertal occupation site in southwestern France, using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. A common feature of OSL dating at archaeological sites is the amount of spread observed in the measurement of the dose absorbed by individual grains from within the same sample. This is known as dose overdispersion and, in archaeological deposits, its presence is generally attributed to one or a combination of factors, including: post-depositional disturbance of sediments, partial resetting of the OSL signal, in situ weathering of rock, and spatial variations in the radiation flux received by individual sand grains. By employing novel sampling techniques and analytical methods, I aim to: 1) describe and quantify micromorphological features in the sediment affecting overdispersion, using thin sections, 2) determine the external radiation dose received by individual grains, 3) measure the absorbed radiation dose of in situ grains within undisturbed, resin-impregnated blocks, and 4) provide a robust chronology for this Neanderthal site.


ARC Discovery grant to  Zenobia Jacobs.

  • Prideaux G. J., Gully G. A., Couzens A. M. C., Ayliffe L. K., Jankowski N. R., Jacobs Z., Roberts R. G., Hellstrom J. C., Gagan M. K. & Hatcher L. M. 2010. Timing and dynamics of Late Pleistocene mammal extinctions in southwestern Australia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 22157-22162.
  • Macken A. C., Jankowski N. R., Price G. J., Bestland E.A., Reed E. H., Prideaux G. J. & Roberts R. G. 2011. Application of sedimentary and chron

Brent Koppel

Brent Koppel

BSc (Hons), University of Wollongong, 2010
Supervisor: Kat Szabó

research project
Species shifts in Kimberley middens: The timing and nature of environmental changes

One of the most common archaeological features associated with coastal occupation and exploitation by prehistoric Australian cultures is the shell midden. Middens hold within them a wealth of information concerning not only the practices of the culture that created it; such as examples of material culture and subsistence strategies. The shell within middens can also reveal palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic features, such as ocean salinity, sea-surface temperature (SST) and freshwater input of the surrounding coastal environment.

In August 2011, excavations were commenced at the Brremangurey rockshelter in the north-western Kimberley, Western Australia. What has been identified are a number of shifts and changes in relative abundances amongst the mollusc species that form the Brremangurey midden assemblage. Whether these shifts in abundances are the result of deliberate shifts in subsistence strategies by the ancient culture that occupied the rockshelter, or rather environmental change altering the distribution patterns on species in the local area remains undefined.

Using a number of geochemical analyses on the archaeological shell from Brremangurey, palaeoenvironmental features such as salinity, ocean temperature and SST can be determined through time and climatic shifts can be identified. This information can then be used to conclude what drove the observed species abundance shifts in Kimberley middens.


ARC Linkage Project to Mike Morwood.

Marika Low

Marika LowBA (Hons) University of Sydney, 2010
Supervisors: Alex Mackay and Richard Fullagar

Research Project
Early Microlithic Systems of the Last Glacial peak (~29-12 ka) in the western cape of South Africa

The widespread shift to microlithic technologies in southern Africa during the late Pleistocene is often used to mark the beginning of the Later Stone Age (LSA; ~40-20 ka [thousand years ago], to the recent past). Early manifestations are often referred to as the Early Later Stone Age (Early LSA or ELSA) with this industrial complex generally being replaced by the more developed microlithic systems of the Robberg technocomplex. After ~40 ka such microlithic technologies become widespread globally. Understanding the timing, nature and possible explanations for such a major technological shift therefore represents an important research topic of broad relevance, and one with the potential to contribute significant information on the early behavioural diversity of humans. This study aims to contribute to this discussion by investigating early microlithic assemblages dating to the last glacial peak (~29-12 ka) from a combination of rockshelter sites and an open-air lithic scatter in the Western Cape of South Africa. Data generated from my research will contribute important detail to understandings of early LSA technology and behaviour by examining the nature and causes of technological variability in several early microlithic assemblages from the Western Cape..

  • Low, M. (2015) Investigating Standardisation in the form of backed artefacts at two sites in the Hunter River Valley, NSW, Australia. Australian Archaeology, 80: 60-69.
  • Low, M. and Mackay, A. (2016) The late Pleistocene microlithic at Putslaagte 8 rockshelter in the Western Cape, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 71(204): 146-159.

Conor McAdams

Conor McAdamsM.Phil, Archaeology (Archaeological Science) University of Cambridge, 2015
B.Sc Hons 1st Class, Archaeology & Palaeoecology, Queens University Belfast, 2014
Supervisors: Mike Morley, Bert Roberts and Paul Goldberg

Research Project
Diagenesis of Archaeological Deposits in the Caves of the Humid Tropics

Understanding the environmental and archaeological significance of cave sediments requires a sophisticated, geoarchaeological approach. The combination of diverse hydrogeological, atmospheric and biological depositional agencies active within caves creates unique and dynamic sedimentary environments. The interaction of decomposing, phosphate rich guano with carbonates of geological or archaeological origin is a prominent example and has been shown to result in severe diagenetic alteration of archaeological deposits. The chemical reactions involved are dictated by specific conditions. Spatial analysis of sediment geochemistry may therefore be used to infer original sedimentary constituents, diagenetic pathways and changing chemical palaeoenvironments.

The results of these sedimentary processes have primarily been observed in caves outside the humid tropics. It is suggested that the high rainfall and temperatures of equatorial regions, responsible for the heavily weathered tropical soilscape, will have markedly intensified the weathering of cave sediments. No published research to date has had the scope to systematically explore this hypothesis. In addition, the apparent, somewhat unexplained, stability of buried authigenic mineral suites, under conditions that should lead to their dissolution, implies that environmental change across the Late Glacial may have left varied recognisable, geochemical signals within stratified cave sediments. 

This project will incorporate a micromorphological study of site formation processes at a range of archaeologically important cave sites in SE Asia. FTIR and Raman spectroscopy will be employed to assist with mineral identification, exploring post-depositional processes within the burial environment. Isotopic records of environmental change will be constructed using available cave sediments, including guano and speleothoems, allowing authigenic mineral suites to be understood in a secure environmental context.


ARC laureate postgraduate research award

Claire Perrette


Licence en Histoire de l’Art et Archéologie, Université de Bourgogne (France), 2008
Master Archéologie, Cultures, Territoires et Environements (A.C.T.E), Université de Bourgogne (France), 2011
Supervisor: Kat Szabó   

Research Project
Shell artefacts, value, and power: an anthropological approach to archaeological remains in melanesia

A variety of ethnographic collections and anthropological studies undertaken in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries document that shells were used by Pacific people to produce a variety of artefacts including tools, currencies and prestige-goods (e.g. the Kula trade network, the Langalanga shell money etc.). In general, these shells artefacts have an economic as well as a personal value, because they can serve as both physical and symbolic protection, provide prestige/power to the owner, enhance status and in some instances display the social and/or ethnic identity of the wearer. Whilst such examples are plentiful in the ethnographic record of the Pacific Islands, it has been argued that shell valuables, and their circulation between islands in patterned trading networks, can be detected back as far as the earliest Neolithic sites of Melanesia – those ascribed to the Lapita Cultural Complex (ca. 3500-2500 BP).

The purpose of this research project is to develop and test a method for isolating and interpreting shell valuables from archaeological deposits. This will do by utilising anthropological understandings and ethnographic artefacts to assist interpretation of archaeological data. 

Natasha Phillips

Natasha PhillipsMA (Hons) (Archaeology), University of Auckland, 2013
BA (Hons) (Archaeology), University of Auckland, 2010 
Supervisors: Alex MacKay and Zenobia Jacobs

Research Project
OUT IN THE OPEN: An Alternative Approach to Assessing Land-use Dynamics in the MSA of the Western Cape, South Africa

Within South Africa Homo sapiens behaviour during the MSA is presented as a spatially and temporally pronounced pattern of resource exploitation across coastal and montane regions. However, there is a notable vacuum in knowledge regarding how the MSA landscape is structured in today’s winter rainfall zone, outside the immediate rock shelter setting. The kinds, distribution and age range of archaeology and, by extension, human behaviour preserved in open-air contexts remains to be investigated on a localised landscape scale in the interior of Southern Africa’s winter rainfall zone. To investigate Middle Stone Age land-use dynamics my Doctorate research endeavours to produce a spatial and temporal framework of archaeological remains exposed in an open-air setting along the Doring River of the Western Cape, South Africa. The archaeology found across this differentially deflated river valley exists in the form of lithic artefacts, abundant both in volume and temporally diagnostic representation. Employing a landscape perspective and geoarchaeological approach with the use of OSL and systematic survey, I aim to link the temporal structure of the geomorphology with the spatial distribution of these archaeological remains and their temporally diagnostic signal. Investigating their spatial and temporal composition across an open landscape enables assessment of various processes involved in the formation of MSA surface archaeology (behavioural and geological) in a riverine setting. This body of research represents a systematic attempt to further the study of South African surface archaeology out in the open with the aim to expand our knowledge of MSA behaviour in landscape contexts; an area of research often limited to rock shelter settings.

Mika R. Puspaningrum

MikaProfileMSc (Geology), Bandung Institue of Technology, 2011
BSC (Geology), Bandung Institute of Technology, 2008
Supervisors: Gert van den Bergh and Allan Chivas

Research project
elephantoids as palaeoenvironmental indicators in Asia

As the largest terrestrial herbivore that ever exist and still exist in the present time, Elephantoids played a key role in the modification of past and present landscapes and vegetation types. In South East Asia, especially Indonesia, Elephantoids have a comparatively rich fossil record, and there was a great diversity in the number of species adapted to various habitats and climatic zones. Some of their inherent characteristics, such as the ability to float, their large body mass enabling them to survive for prolonged periods without food, and the possession of a trunk, have enabled Elephantoids to colonize some oceanic islands.

In recent decades, carbon and oxygen stable-isotope analysis of tooth enamel has been increasingly applied as a powerful proxy for analysing palaeoclimate, palaeoenvironmental conditions and dietary preferences. The dental enamel of mammals, including elephants, contains high-resolution multi-annual stable-isotope records of environmental parameters. As herbivores, Elephantoid dietary adaptations are closely linked to the availability of certain types of vegetation, to climate change-induced variability of vegetation and to the ability to adapt to these changes.

The main aim of my research is using the fossilized and living Elephantoid teeth as a proxy to reconstruct the interactions between past environmental changes and the evolution of the Elephantoids in Asia, by analysing feeding ecology, dietary preferences and habitat preferences. The subsidiary aims of my study also includes the reconstruction of inter-specific competition for food resources and/or habitat preferences between Elephas and Stegodon where both taxa were co-occurring in both mainland and island settings (Java, Flores, Timor and Sulawesi), the extinction pattern of Elephantoids, the  spatial and temporal shifts in dietary preferences induced by Monsoonal paleoclimatic changes that forced shifts from C3 to C4 dominated vegetations, and seasonal variation patterns in dietary preferences of the Elephantoid. The method is focuses on obtaining high-resolution stable-isotope records (δ13C, δ18O) from fossil Elephantoid tooth enamel combined with micro and meso-morphological studies of the Elephantoid dentition. The study deals with both Elephantoids that lived in mainland as well as island settings during the Plio-Pleistocene.

Ruly Setiawan  


BSc (Geological Engineering), Gadjah Mada University, 2004
Supervisors: Allan Chivas & Gert van den Bergh  

Research project
The chronology and palaeoenvironment of the Soa Basin, Indonesia

There are many fundamental research questions concerning faunal evolution and hominin dispersal in South and Southeast Asia over the past 2 million years. The entry time of pre-modern hominins in Southeast Asia, when they became extinct, and when modern humans arrived are still unknown. There are many fossil fauna sites already known in the region, but most are not well dated. Further questions that need to be answered are concerned with the palaeoenvironments at times when hominins and fauna were living. What kinds of environments were preferred by hominins and fauna is not clearly understood yet.

The Soa Basin is a key site to address those questions. The basin is situated in the isolated island of Flores and contains abundant assemblages of stone artefacts. In this project, I will use interdisciplinary approaches, including litho-and tephrostratigraphy, geochemistry, argon-argon dating and ITPFT (fission track), to understand the chronostratigraphic framework of the Soa basin and to reconstruct the temporal and spatial development of fluvio-lacustrine conditions within the basin during the Early and Middle Pleistocene.


UPA, IPTA and ARC Discovery Project grants to Mike Morwood and Adam Brumm. 

Cassandra "Cass" Venn


BA (Hons), University of Queensland
Supervisor: Zenobia Jacobs  

Research Project
An investigation of termite disturbance in Australia's northern archaeological sites using optically stimulated luminescence and micromorphology

Determining the earliest occupation of Australia is an issue that has plagued archaeologists for many years. The dates for some of the oldest sites in Australia’s north have been questioned in the past due to suspected termite disturbance within the deposit, thereby affecting dates obtained from those sites. Despite this, Archaeologists are still ill informed as to the extent of termite activity and how it has affected soil and sediments within deposits and by extension, dateable material within those deposits.

The effect of termite activity on archaeological sites has not been investigated in any great detail in any tropical setting. A dearth of research has examined the impact of termites on the movement of soil and sediment within the soil science discipline. However, very little of this research has been applied to archaeological sites, particularly in Australia.

My research will primarily use optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and micromorphology to examine the properties of soil and sediments that have been reworked by termites within an active termite mound. That data will then be used to examine samples taken from Malakunanja in the Northern Territory to determine the extent to which the deposit has been affected by their activity.

Dida Yurnaldi  

Dida Yurnaldi

BSc (Geology), Padjajaran University, Indonesia, 2002
Supervisor: to be advised

research project
A Palaeo-Magnetic Study of the Soa Basin, Flores, Indonesia

Sediments can not only preserve archaeological and palaeontological evidence, but also “fingerprints” of past changes in magnetic orientation - including short-term fluctuations (secular variation), polarity transitions and magnetic reversal sequences (Tarling 1983; Turner,1987; Butler 1998). In addition, magnetic minerals, and the inferred processes by which they have been deposited, can be used as proxy evidence for past environments (Thompson, et al 1986; Dearing, 1999).While there has been a long history of palaeomagnetic research, predominantly for dating, its potential as a source of palaeoenvironmental evidence has only been recognised recently, and there is still considerable scope for further developments in the method and its application in a range of research fields, including geology, archaeology and  palaeontology (Herries, 2009).  My thesis research will investigate the value of palaeomagnetism for both dating and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in two Indonesian sedimentary basins that have yielded evidence for early hominin occupation and associated faunas – the Soa Basin in central Flores and the Walanae Basin in southwest Sulawesi. In cases my work will be undertaken in the context of, and will complement, a range of other dating and palaeoenvironmental evidence.


ARC Discovery Project grant to Mike Morwood.

Graduated Students


Luke Gliganic

Luke Gligianc

BA (Anthropology and Environmental Studies), Stony Brook University, 2007
PhD University of Wollongong 2011
Supervisors: Bert Roberts, Zenobia Jacobs 

Research project
Optically stimulated luminescence investigations of the Middle and Later Stone Age of East Africa

The overarching aim of my thesis is to contribute to resolving when and why various behaviours and technologies emerged in sub-Saharan Africa during the Late Pleistocene. This spatial-temporal region saw at least two migrations of anatomically modern humans out of Africa, the emergence and proliferation of symbolic behaviours, and substantial increases in technological diversification and innovation. To elucidate these issues, the main aim of my research is to construct an improved chronology for the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) deposits from two sites in East Africa: Mumba and Moche Borago rockshelters. Both sites have long archaeological sequences that contain changes in technology from MSA to LSA toolkits. The MSA/LSA transition at Mumba includes the emergence of the backed piece tool type and ornamental ostrich eggshell beads.

I have been using OSL dating of quartz and feldspar grains to provide numerical-age chronologies of the archaeological deposits associated with these transitions in technologies and behaviours. By creating a robust chronology for these sites, sound comparisons can be made between the technologies/behaviours and existing palaeoclimate reconstructions and genetic evidence for early human demographics. This multidisciplinary approach can yield new insights in the timing of, and potential reasons for, the emergence and dispersal of MSA and LSA technologies and symbolic behaviours in sub-Saharan Africa during the Late Pleistocene.


ARC Discovery Project grant to Bert Roberts and Zenobia Jacobs

Christina "Chrissy" M. Neudorf

Chrissy Neudorf

BSc(Hons) (Physical Geography), University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada, 2005
MSc (Physical Geography), Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, 2008
Supervisors: Bert Roberts & Zenobia Jacobs  

Research project
Prehistory in ash and alluvium: towards a chronology for early human occupation and environmental change in the Middle Son Valley, India, before and after the Toba super-eruption

My PhD project is part of a larger study conducted by an international team of archaeologists, geologists, volcanologists and palaeobiologists (including Bert Roberts and Allan Chivas, and researchers from Oxford and Allahabad Universities) focused on the chronology of human occupation of the Middle Son Valley in northern India. Of particular interest is the potential impact of the ~74 ka Toba super-eruption on the contemporaneous human populations and environment in India. Archaeological and geological data have been collected from the Son Valley by the team to answer the following questions:1. What is the chronology of archaic and/or anatomically modern human occupation of the Son Valley?2. What was the impact of the ~74 ka Toba super-eruption on regional environments and hominid populations?The aim of my project is to provide new stratigraphic, geomorphic and chronometric data to help constrain the depositional age of Youngest Toba Tuff (YTT) deposits and artefact-bearing stratigraphic formations in the Middle Son Valley. During the course of my research, new infrared stimulated luminescence (IRSL) and “post-IR IR” ages will be obtained from single aliquots of feldspar, and the IRSL dating potential of single grains of potassium feldspar will be explored


ARC Discovery Project to Bert Roberts and Allan Chivas

  • Metin I. Eren, Adam Durant, Christina Neudorf, Michael Haslam, Ceri Shipton, Janardhana Bora, Ravi Korisettar, Michael Petraglia (2010). Experimental examination of animal trampling effects on artefact movement in dry and water saturated substrates: a test case from South India. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, 3010-3021.


Last reviewed: 3 February, 2017