Archaeological Sciences

See the supervisors involved in Archaeological Sciences in the School, and the projects they'll be working on in the coming year.

Dr Agathe Lise-Pronovost

Budj Bim Indigenous technology

The Budj Bim World Heritage Cultural Landscape is internationally recognised for preserving the world’s oldest aquaculture system, which provided an economic and social base for the Gunditjmara people of South-western Victoria for more than six millennia. What technologies were used by Gunditjmara people to carve canals in the volcanic landscape? Oral tradition suggests that fire was used to assist cracking, but empirical evidence is lacking. This project will use archaeomagnetic analysis to provide evidence for ancient fire technology.

With permission from the traditional owners, volcanic rock samples will be collected in and out the canals. Stepwise thermal demagnetisation will inform on the heating histories since the 40,000 years old Tyrendarra lava flow, including an evaluation of bushfire effect.

A digital image created of the elevation in the carved canals using green and red shading to emphasize shape and depth.

This project is part of a larger project led by Dr Martin Tomko (School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne) that aims to elucidate the engineering processes that enabled the Gunditjmara to site, plan, construct, operate and maintain this aquaculture complex, to show how it may have evolved over time, and how it responded to changing social and environmental circumstances. The student will conduct the magnetism experiments at the Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory at La Trobe University (Melbourne) in collaboration with Professor Andy Herries.

Find an expert: Dr Agathe Lise-Pronovost

Prof. Rachel Popelka-Filcoff

Archaeological science of natural mineral pigments and cultural heritage

While much of our knowledge of past societies is lost to time, we can use analytical approaches to cultural materials (natural mineral pigments -Fe-oxides and -hydroxides) to answer key archaeological science questions. These questions include research to characterise ancient technologies and to understand cultural exchange of materials. As part of an ARC Discovery Project, we are developing a suite of sophisticated and non-destructive techniques, some based in geochemical methods, toward the chemical and physical characterisation of complex materials such as natural mineral pigments, resins and binders.

Aspects of the project include elemental, mass spectrometric, microbial DNA and spectroscopic techniques. Opportunities include characterisation of binders in cultural heritage objects (py-GC-MS and IR spectroscopy) and material and pigment analysis by X-ray and spectroscopic methods. Collaborators include scientists at the University of Melbourne, Flinders University, archaeologists at Flinders University and Indigenous community partners.

Find an Expert: Prof. Rachel Popelka-Filcoff

Dr Louise Shewan, A/Prof John Webb (La Trobe) and colleagues from ANU

The megalithic jar sites of Laos

Laos is home to one of Southeast Asia’s most mysterious archaeological cultures. The ‘Plain of Jars’ is a megalithic landscape, comprising more than 2,500 hollowed, stone jars, discs, and boulder burial-markers, spread over more than 120 documented sites, 11 of which were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage in 2019 ( The jars vary in height from 1 to 3m and are placed alone or in groups numbering several hundred. They appear to be part of a complex burial ritual and were transported from quarries several km away.

This Hons project focusses on petrographic/geochemical characterisation of the various jar materials and of samples from potential sources. Thin sections of the samples, prepared either locally or commercially, will be examined using the petrographic microscope, electron microscopy (SEM-BSE imaging) and the electron microprobe. Microscopic observations will establish the mineralogy and texture of the rocks, while SEM imaging will provide mineralogical and intergrowth detail at the sub-microscopic scale, as well as mineral identification via SEM-EDS analysis. Electron microprobe analyses will be used to obtain quantitative mineral chemical compositions which – together with the mineralogy and textures – can be used to support potential matches with source materials. Additional instrumental techniques may also be utilised (e.g. XRF and ICP-MS to obtain major/trace element abundances in whole rocks; laser ablation ICP-MS to obtain trace element concentrations at 0.1 mm scales; isotopic analyses of strontium and neodymium).

This project would best suit a recent geology/mineralogy graduate with an interest in petrography, mineralogy and analytical geochemical techniques. All analytical equipment (except for XRF) is available within SGEAS.

Find an Expert: Dr Louise Shewan