Pioneering techniques to take research further

Our Archaeogeochemistry and Geochronology theme takes our research in this field to the next level, with the use of new techniques and technologies.

Explore our work below.

ARCHAEOGEOCHEMISTRY

Archaeogeochemistry uses isotopic systems to gain insights into human mobility and origins. We are establishing large-scale isotope maps for Sr isotopes to compare the isotopic signature of human fossils with the surrounding geological provinces. These maps can also be used for forensic and repatriation investigations. For the analysis of human remains, we pioneer new micro-analytical techniques that leave the human material virtually undamaged.

GEOCHRONOLOGY

Scientific dating revolutionised archaeology, particularly with the advent of radiocarbon (14C) dating in the late 1940s. Despite major improvements in modern equipment and sample pretreatment techniques, 14C dating is limited to organic materials younger than 60,000 years and, in most cases, younger than 40,000 years. This has prompted new dating techniques such as uranium-series, argon–argon, thermoluminescence (TL), optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and electron spin resonance (ESR). We have pioneered some of these techniques for the dating of human remains and rock art. Together with colleagues from the University of Queensland, we have formed the Brisbane Geochronology Alliance (BGA), which gives all members access to geochronological facilities.

Projects

  • The rock art of the Philippines: Associate Professor Maxime Aubert with Professor Paul Taçon.
  • The rock art of Altai: Associate Professor Maxime Aubert with Professor Paul Taçon.
  • Oxygen isotope microanalysis of fish otoliths: Professor Rainer Grün with Ms K. Long (supervised PhD student at Australian National University), Professor I. Williams (Australian National University), Dr N. Stern (La Trobe).
  • Oxygen isotope microanalysis of human teeth: With Ms H. James (supervised PhD student at Australian National University), Professor I. Williams (Australian National University), Dr B. Maureille, Dr P. Courtaud (Bordeaux).
  • Isotope mapping of Cape York: Professor Rainer Grün with Dr Michael Westaway, Professor Brian Fry and Shaun Adams. External collaborators: Professor J.x. Zhao (University of Queensland), Professor. S. Eggins (Australian National University).
  • Thermochronology of the Namche Barwa core complex: Professor Rainer Grün with Ms F. Fang (supervised PhD student at Australian National University), Dr M Forster, Professor Ian Williams, Professor G Lister (all Australian National University), Professor L Zhou, Professor X. Zheng (Shanghai), Dr S.H. Li (Hong Kong). Dr N. Mercier (Bordeaux).

Present grants

2017–2021 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, $998,804

The unknown ‘Ice Age’ artists of Borneo

This project aims to shift the focus of the search for art’s origins onto important new horizons. Who were the first artists? When and why did it become second nature for humans not simply to exist within the natural world, but to encode it with images of things both real and imagined? The discovery of cave paintings in Sulawesi and more recently in Borneo dating to at least 40,000 years ago has altered our understanding of the origins and spread of the first painting traditions. This project will build upon these breakthrough discoveries by constructing the first detailed portrait of the cultural and symbolic worlds of the unknown artists of Pleistocene Borneo. By doing so, it will further our knowledge about the process of the emergence of figurative art, one of the most fundamental cultural developments in the evolution of humankind.

Sole investigator: Associate Professor Maxime Aubert

2016–2020 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, $692,015

Chronology of Lower Palaeolithic settlements across the Mediterranean

This project seeks to contribute to our understanding of early human evolution in the Mediterranean and provide tested dating methods for Early Pleistocene sites. It aims to answer a major question in Quaternary geochronology and Mediterranean archaeology—when hominins reached the edges of the Mediterranean—by building more robust chronologies for Early Pleistocene sites located in non-volcanic context. After testing a series of dating protocols at known-age localities, the project plans to apply a new multi-technique dating approach combining different numerical methods and Bayesian modelling on a range of Lower Palaeolithic sites in three key areas: Southern Spain, Northern Africa and the Near East.

Sole investigator: Dr Mathieu Duval

2016–2019 Australian Research Council, $502,246

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

This 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 the movement of individuals and groups of people is an instigator and a response to sociocultural change. We use key European and Pacific Island examples to build a comparative archaeology of phenomena of rapid social and economic change, with pertinence to general theories of innovation and adoption.

Collaborators: Dr C. Frieman, Prof M. Spriggs, Dr Rachel Wood, Professor S. Eggins, Professor I. Williams (all Australian National University), Professor Rainer Grün, Dr Mathieu Duval, Dr A. Valera (ERA Archaeology, Portugal).

2015–2018 Australian Research Council, $472,343

Landscape archaeology at Lake Mungo

The southern tip of the Mungo lunette is an icon of Australia’s Indigenous past. Despite its international significance, the archaeological traces have disintegrated as the lunette has eroded over the past 30 years. In this interdisciplinary project, we will collaborate with Elders from the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area to reconstruct the history of environmental changes and the life-ways of the first humans to settle this region. We will focus on stitching together the patchwork of archaeological traces scattered through space and time, and on measuring processes of modern sediment erosion and deposition to develop management strategies for the future protection of this unique archive of Australia’s past.

Collaborators: Dr. N. Stern (La Trobe), Dr. Z. Jacobs, Professor C. Murray-Wallace (Wollongong), Dr. S. McClusky, Professor I. Williams, Dr T. Denham (Australian National University), Professor Rainer Grün.

Grant details

See all of ARCHE’s past and current grants

Relevant publications

Our publications

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