Facts & figures
- #1 in Sydney
- 2023 QS World University Rankings
Facts & figures
Our academics and researchers have a broad range of expertise in archaeological method and theory including key areas of archaeometry, digital technology, archaeozoology, lithics and ceramics analysis.
They conduct fieldwork in regions around the world, including Australia and the Pacific, East and Southeast Asia (Angkor in Cambodia), China, Central Asia (Uzbekistan), the Middle East (Iran, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia Türkiya), India, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Mediterranean (Cyprus, Greece, Italy). Our teaching program reflects these regional interests.
Learn how to reconstruct ancient cultures from the material residues of their activities and how to interpret archaeological evidence to influence the present. Gain an understanding of the methods and thinking with which archaeologists interpret past lives. Answer the most crucial questions about prehistoric and historic societies, and experience a far-reaching focus on Australia, the broader Near East and classical Mediterranean societies.
Museum and Heritage Studies will equip you with a contextual understanding of core historical and theoretical developments in museum and heritage studies. You will learn the frameworks for managing collections and sites and develop a practical understanding of the modes of interpretation used in the museum and heritage sector.
The research programs involve independent research work and the preparation of a thesis under the supervision of the director of the program, and other academic staff in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
The research conducted within the discipline of Archaeology is internationally recognised, encompassing the breadth and diversity of the human past, from early members of our species in Africa to historical Sydney. We strive to understand people and their behaviours through their social lives, technology, and settlements, as well as tracking human responses to climate and environmental changes.
Our research falls within five main themes, highlighting transformations over the course of human history, and the relevance of our research to contemporary issues.
Of immediate relevance to issues playing out around the world now, our research strives to understand the connections between people and their environments. As such, our research addresses issues of bio-cultural interactions and transitions, the shift from foraging to farming, resilience, fragility and environmental degradation, and palaeoecology.
We undertake projects in Australia, the Pacific, China, Sri Lanka, Africa, South and Southeast Asia, East and West Asia, and Greece.
Alison Betts, Lesley Beaumont, Annie Clarke, Keith Dobney, Ioana Dumitru, Patrick Faulkner, Roland Fletcher, James Flexner, Melissa Kennedy, Joseph Lehner, Jane McMahon, Hugh Thomas, Amy Way
Our research encompasses a wide range of elements of the social lives of people in the past and present, including Community Archaeology, art, iconography and symbolism, religious systems, and the social history of childhood.
Although operating at a global scale, we have specific projects in Australia, Greece, and Western Asia.
Bridging archaeology, museums and heritage, and public archaeology, within this research theme our staff undertake research focused on issues of colonialism and cross-cultural engagement, heritage and communities, and Museums and collections.
This work is collaborative, involving First Nations people and a range of cultural institutions across Australia, the Pacific and Greece.
Annie Clarke, Lesley Beaumont, Patrick Faulkner, Charlotte Feakins, James Flexner, Tristen Jones, Amy Way
Incorporating elements of technology, material culture and materials science, research projects undertaken by our staff focus on human evolution and the transformation of technological systems, form and variation in material culture, and materials analysis (e.g., residues).
Geographically, this theme covers areas of Australia, the Pacific, eastern Africa, Oman and West Asia, Southeast Asia, and Italy.
Patrick Faulkner, Roland Fletcher, James Flexner, Joseph Lehner, Amy Way
Within this theme we explore the roots and development of urban societies, the trajectories of settlement growth, and exploring the connections between emerging, economic, and social complexity across diverse environmental and cultural contexts.
Our current research focuses on Central Asia, Greece, Southeast Asia, Saudi Arabia, and Eurasia.
Alison Betts, Lesley Beaumont, Patrick Faulkner, Roland Fletcher, James Flexner, Melissa Kennedy, Joseph Lehner, Jane McMahon, Hugh Thomas, Joseph Lehner
Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont
Professor Alison Betts
Professor Annie Clarke
Professor Keith Dobney
Associate Professor Patrick Faulkner
Professor Roland Fletcher
Associate Professor James Flexner
Dr Peter Jia
Dr Hugh Thomas
Dr Amy Way
This annual lecture is made possible through the generosity of University of Sydney graduate Tom Austen Brown (LLB ’46 BA ’74).
In his early professional life, Tom was a lawyer but had the heart of an archaeologist, often searching for Aboriginal artefacts in the sand dunes and desert flats around Broken Hill, where he lived. Without realising it, he put together one of the most significant – yet unofficial – collections of Aboriginal stone artefacts in Australia. He completed archaeology studies at the University in 1973.
During his life, Tom gave $1.6 million to the University, and on his passing in 2009, left a $6.9 million bequest to the Department of Archaeology. Tom’s bequest has already created the Chair of Australian Archaeology, the first endowed chair of archaeology in the country to include Australia in its brief. There is also the Tom Austen Brown Grants Program for Prehistory.
Tom has helped create a future for Australia’s past.
Dr James Flexner
The Department of Archaeology | University of Sydney
19 November 2020
When considering the state of archaeology in the present, it’s easy to believe that everything has been ‘dug to death’ when imagining how much fieldwork has been done over the past century or more. This is far from the case in the Pacific region, where many remote and hard to reach islands have yet to see even limited excavations. In this talk I present the results of four years of archaeological fieldwork among the small islands of southern Vanuatu.
This collaborative project brought together archaeologists from research institutions in Australia, France, and Vanuatu. Starting from a position of relatively little information of even basic site locations or chronologies, particularly for the ‘Polynesian Outliers’ of Futuna and Aniwa, we were able to piece together relatively comprehensive histories of Islander resource use, settlement patterns, and regional interactions for this area over the last 3000 years. I will also consider briefly the potential for future research in the area, as the archaeology of southern Vanuatu still has plenty of secrets to reveal.
Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management
at the University of Western Australia
August 7 2019
The last decade has seen a revolution in understanding how and when Australia was initially settled. Occupation evidence in a number of Australian bioregions now exceeds 50,000 years ago; revolutions in genetics brings new understandings of the complexities in the human journey out-of-Africa; and the first direct dating of Pleistocene rock art in south-east Asia, Australia and Europe means that we can now re-envisage how and when humans first started making rock art; and how this may be reflected in Australia’s earliest evidence for symbolic behaviour.
Murujuga (the Dampier Archipelago) juts into the Indian Ocean on the Pilbara coast in Australia’s north-west. When people first started using this region 50,000 years ago, the coastline was more than 160km away. Murujuga rock art reveals the long-distance hypermobility of arid zone peoples at different times during its long occupation as well as differing human responses to major environmental changes through time. Recent archaeological work reveals that the period after the last Ice Age – as the sea level rose – was a period of intense human interactions, with hunter-gatherer villages and intensive rock art production being signs of increased social and population pressure. The engraved rock art of Murujuga provides a visual record for the entire human occupation of Australia’s north-west, up until the arrival of European explorers and north-American whalers in the early-mid 19th Century, and the Flying Foam Massacre in 1865.
Murujuga is on Australia’s National Heritage List because of its significant cultural and scientific value to the nation. The Dampier Archipelago is also home to a major Pilbara industrial focus with iron ore and natural gas contributing significantly to Australia’s economy. Collaboration between researchers, Aboriginal community and industry is increasing our understanding of this Place’s cultural significance and contributing to its appropriate management in the face of development pressure. Working with the Aboriginal community we are developing the case for this Place to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, to ensure that its values are protected for future generations of all Australians. This lecture highlights how science and indigenous knowledge contributes to a better understanding of heritage values generally, and showcases recent findings from Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming.
Jo McDonald is the Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management at the University of Western Australia and holds the Rio Tinto Chair of Rock Art. Her PhD research in the Sydney Basin contextualized rock art production in the sandstone country while her consultancy practice here developed better understandings of large- scale open-area sites working in western Sydney. She has studied the rock art of the Western Desert and Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga) for the last two decades, completing an ARC Future Fellowship focused on arid zone rock art in Australia and the USA. Jo has recently been the Lead Chief Investigator (CI) for the Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming ARC Linkage Project, and is a CI on the Deep History of Sea Country ARC Project. She is currently working on rock art dating across the arid zone, and is developing a project with Aboriginal communities from the Western Desert and Pilbara coast on inter-generational and cross-cultural knowledge exchange.
3 August 2018
Dr Mark Collard, Canada Research Chair and Professor, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Canada
Comparative ethnology is the practice of comparing and contrasting the features of large samples of human societies. Also known as cross-cultural analysis, it has a long association with archaeology. For example, the pioneering archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers was also an exponent of comparative ethnology. Similarly, the career-capping book of the most influential archaeologist of the second half of the 20th century, Lewis Binford, is a work of comparative ethnology. However, comparative ethnology has never been considered a key archaeological tool. In this talk, I will argue that it should be. Drawing on my own work and that of colleagues, I will show that there are both theoretical and practical reasons for archaeologists to enthusiastically embrace comparative ethnology. Adding it to the techniques that we expect archaeology undergraduate students to know will enable the discipline to make faster progress with the task of making sense of the patterns in the archaeological record.
11 August 2017
Professor Ian J McNiven, Monash University
There is an old saying in archaeology that if you find something that is behaviourally odd or out-of-the-ordinary then label it ritual. Yet for Australian Indigenous societies, ritual practices, especially those of a socio-religious nature, are anything but out-of-the-ordinary.
Ritual practices are fundamental to how Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders direct their lives and relate to each other, to the spiritual realm, and to the broader world. As such, understanding the nature and long-term development of past rituals and ceremonial practices provides enormous scope for archaeologists to create historical narratives that express human and spiritual agency and intentionality that resonate with Indigenous worldviews.
In this paper, I explore the history of Torres Strait Islander ritual practices over the past 1000 years from an ethnographically informed archaeological perspective. We will start with the materiality of ritual practices as known ethnographically through historical texts, museum objects, and contemporary Islander views. Critically, many ritual practices also involved shrines comprising objects such as shells, bones, artefacts, and stone figures that can be studied archaeologically and radiocarbon dated. Results reveal successive use of shrines expressed through constant additions of objects over hundreds of years.
These chronologies not only define the temporal limits of ethnographically known practices back in time, but also position shrines as historically dynamic and ever-emergent works-in-progress. The ever-changing materiality of shrines was an expression of ritual constancy and historical continuity in the socio-religious lives of Torres Strait Islanders.
8 August 2016
Dr Steve Wolverton, University of North Texas
Archaeologists contribute data and perspectives to conservation biology, restoration ecology and environmental science. Although zooarchaeology, and to a lesser extent archaeobotany, have led the way, what archaeology truly has to offer stems from the unique nature of the discipline. Archaeology is the only field of study that offers a long-term record of human-environmental interactions. There are two major contributions that archaeologists provide conservationists, one philosophical and one empirical. The value of archaeology in environmental conservation is easily demonstrated through exemplary case studies.
Banner image: Aboriginal rock art at Yankee Hat in Namadgi National Park, ACT. Photo by James Flexner.