Palaeoanthropology is the study of extinct and prehistoric hominins and their primate relatives

It is primarily concerned with the study of fossil hominin material and attempts to place the fossil record within a meaningful evolutionary context. Our researchers are actively involved in the recovery, investigation and interpretation of fossil human remains and their close relatives in Australia and the Asian region.

This theme has an active field program that works closely with Aboriginal custodians and international collaborators in investigating fossil and prehistoric skeletal remains.


Professor Tanya Smith

PhD Students

Aaron Fogel, David McGahan

Present grants

2015-2018 Australian Research Council Linkage Project, $740,880

Establishing the provenance of North Australian remains: Genetics, craniometrics and isotopes

This project has two key aims: a revision of the population history of North East Australia and the repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains. Researchers aim to use advances in the fields of ancient DNA, isotope analysis and craniometrics to resolve the provenance of human remains but also build a new model for the later colonisation history of Australia in the Holocene. It represents the largest biological anthropology project working on Aboriginal skeletal material  to be funded in the past few decades.

Collaborators: Dr Duncan Wright (Australian National University), Professor David Lambert, Professor Adrian Miller, Professor Brian Fry, Professor M. Collard (Simon Fraser University), Dr S. Sankarasubramanian, Dr R. Li (Novogene Bioinformatics Technology Co. Ltd) and Professor Eske Willerslev (Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark).

2014-2016 Australian Research Council Discovery Project, $394,717

The origin of the First Australians: A genomic approach

The earliest known inhabitants of Australia lived more than 42,000 years ago on the shores of Lake Mungo. This project will present data that show it is feasible to recover complete genomes of some early Australians, in addition to the sex and mitochondrial genomes of others. This data will provide a new understanding of the robust and gracile morphologies of these people, as well as the dispersal patterns of modern humans out of Africa. Ideas about Australia’s First People have been central to the development of theories about the origin of modern humans generally, and therefore this study will be of international significance.

Collaborators: Professor David Lambert, Professor Eske Willerslev (Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark), Professor E. Matisoo-Smith (University of Otago), Dr C Millar (University of Auckland).

2016-2019 Australian Research Council Linkage Project, $570,000

Investigating Holocene India—Australia Connections using Ancient Genomics

A number of studies of human migration suggest that after initial colonisation of Australia around 45,000 years ago, these people remained largely isolated until the arrival of Europeans. In contrast, recent studies have suggested that a wave of migration from India into Australia occurred approximately 4,230 years ago. However, a major drawback of these recent studies is that sequence data used was from modern indigenous Australians who were potentially admixed with Europeans. To address this issue, we will sequence complete genomes from sub-fossil bones of ancient Indian and Indigenous Australian people and directly investigate this possible India-Australia connection.

Collaborators: Professor David Lambert, Dr S. Sankarasubramanian,Professor Eske (Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark), Dr K. Thangaraj (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, India), Dr R. Li (Novogene Bioinformatics Technology Co. Ltd)

2016-2019 Australian Research Council Discovery Project, $502,246

Beyond migration and diffusion: The prehistoric mobility of people and ideas

The project builds on the strength of ongoing, innovative collaborations between archaeologists and geochemists to ask novel questions about the movement of people and ideas in prehistory. Spatial and temporal patterns in population mobility will be examined to clarify their relationship with the appearance of new and exotic materials, technologies and practices. We focus on the ways movement of individuals and groups of people is an instigator and a response to sociocultural change, utilising key European and Pacific Island examples to help build a truly comparative archaeology of phenomena of rapid social and economic change, with pertinence to general theories of innovation and adoption.

Collaborators: Dr Catherine Frieman, Professor Matthew Spriggs, Dr Rachel Wood, Professor Stephen Eggins, Professor Ian Williams (all Australian National University), Dr M Duval (CENIEH, Spain). Dr A. Valera (ERA Archaeology, Portugal), Dr. C. Ustunkaya.

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