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The Australian National University

Associate Professor Tim Denham

BA (Hons.) (Cambridge), MS (PennState), PhD (ANU)
Associate Dean (Higher Degree Research)
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Archaeological Science 210102
  • Archaeology Of New Guinea And Pacific Islands (Excl. New Zealand) 210106
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Archaeology 210101

Research interests

1. Plant domestication, early agriculture (New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia) and plant exploitation (northern Australia)

My PhD research clarified that the highlands of New Guinea were a location of early agriculture and plant domestication. Since then I have continued to investigate the socio-environmental implications of early agriculture on New Guinea and in the Island Southeast Asian region. Drawing on this experience, I have become interested in the domestication of vegetatively propagated food plants in the wet tropics, especially bananas (Musa cvs). In recent years, I initiated archaeological and genetic projects seeking to clarify the long-term history of plant exploitation in northern Australia.

Key publications:

Denham, T.P., S.G. Haberle, C. Lentfer, R. Fullagar, J. Field, M. Therin, N. Porch and B. Winsborough 2003. Origins of agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of New Guinea. Science 301: 189-193.

Denham, T.P., J. Iriarte and L. Vrydaghs (eds.) 2007. Rethinking Agriculture: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Perspectives Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press (hardback edition in 2007; paperback edition in 2009).

Denham, T.P. and S.G. Haberle 2008. Agricultural emergence and transformation in the Upper Wahgi valley during the Holocene: Theory, method and practice. The Holocene 18: 499-514.

Denham, T.P. 2011. Early agriculture and plant domestication in New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia. Current Anthropology 52(S4): S379-S395.

Fuller, D.Q., T.P. Denham, M. Arroyo-Kalin, L. Lucas, C. Stevens, L. Qin, R. Allaby and M.D. Purugganan 2014. Convergent evolution and parallelism in plant domestication reveleead by an expanding archaeological record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 111: 6147-6152.

Marshall, F. K. Dobney, T.P. Denham and J. Capriles 2014. Evaluating the roles of directed breeding and gene flow in animal domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 111: 6153-6158.

Perrier, X., E. De Langhe, M. Donohue, C. Lentfer, L. Vrydaghs, F. Bakry, F. Carreel, I. Hippolyte, J-P. Horry, C. Jenny, V. Lebot, A-M. Risterucci, K. Tomekpe, H. Doutrelepont, T. Ball, J. Manwaring, P. de Maret and T.P. Denham (corresponding author) 2011. Multidisciplinary perspectives on banana (Musa spp.) domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 108: 11311-11318.


 2. Geoarchaeology and environmental change

I am a geoarchaeologist, namely, I draw on the disciplines of geomorphology, sedimentology and soil science to augment my understanding of archaeological sites. I have applied my geoarchaeological skills to fishpond aquaculture in Hawai`i, to early agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the highlands of New Guinea and to Pleistocene palaeosurfaces at Lake Mungo (Australia), among other sites. I am particularly interested in how human-environment interactions in the past can be used to better understand environmental problems in the present/future.

Key publications:

Denham, T.P. 2008. Environmental archaeology: Interpreting practices-in-the-landscape through geoarchaeology. In B. David and J. Thomas, eds, Handbook of Landscape Archaeology, pp. 468-481. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Denham, T.P. and S. Mooney (eds.) 2008. Human-Environment Interactions in Australia and New Guinea during the Holocene. The Holocene, Special Issue 18(3).

Denham, T.P., K. Sniderman, K. Saunders, B. Winsborough and A. Pierret 2009. Contiguous multi-proxy analyses (X-radiography, diatom, pollen and microcharcoal) of Holocene archaeological features at Kuk Swamp, Upper Wahgi valley, Papua New Guinea. Geoarchaeology 24: 715-742.

Denham, T.P. 2012. Environmental change and archaeological evidence. In J.A. Matthews et al. (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Environmental Change. Volume 1, pp. 305-319. London: Sage Publications.

Matthews, J.A., P.J. Bartlein, K.R. Briffa, A.G. Dawson, A. De Vernal, T.P. Denham, S.C. Fritz and F. Oldfield (eds) 2012. The SAGE Handbook of Environmental Change. Two Volumes. London: Sage Publications.


3. Revising the Holocene histories of Island Southeast Asia, the New Guinea region and northern Australia

I am working with archaeologists, geneticists and linguists to re-examine: the consilience of different lines of multidisciplinary evidence for Austronesian language dispersal from Taiwan; the social significance of the Lapita phenomenon; the long-term histories of interaction between mainland Southeast Asia, Island Southeast Asia and New Guinea; and socio-environmental transformations in northern Australia.

Key publications:

Denham, T.P., M. Donohue and S. Booth 2009. Revisiting an old hypothesis: Horticultural experimentation in northern Australia. Antiquity 83: 634-648.

Donohue, M. and T.P. Denham 2010. Farming and language in Island Southeast Asia: Reframing Austronesian history. Current Anthropology 51: 223-256.

Donohue, M., T.P. Denham and S. Oppenheimer. 2012. New methods for historical linguistics? Calibrating a lexicon-based methodology for diffusion vs. subgrouping. Diachronica 29: 505-522.

Denham, T.P. 2013. Early farming in Island Southeast Asia: An alternative hypothesis. Antiquity 87: 250-257.

Denham, T.P. 2014. New Guinea during the Holocene. In C. Renfrew and P. Bahn (eds.) The Cambridge World Prehistory, Volume 1, pp. 578-597. Cambridge: CUP.

Specht, J., T.P. Denham, J. Goff and J.E. Terrell 2014. Deconstructing the Lapita Cultural Complex in the Bismarck Archipelago. Journal of Archaeological Research 22: 89-140.


Additionally, I was a primary author and co-ordinator of Papua New Guinea’s successful nomination of the Kuk Early Agricultural Site to UNESCO’s World Heritage List (2008).



I started out as a geographer, completing my BA (Hons) at Cambridge University (England) and MS at Penn State (USA). I then spent six years working as a consultant archaeologist, primarily in Hawai`i and England. In 1997, I came to the Australian National University to begin a PhD working with Professor Jack Golson on the emergence of agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the highlands of New Guinea. After (and partly before) being awarded my PhD in 2004, I lectured in soil science at Bournemouth University (UK), in archaeology at Flinders University (Adelaide), environmental change at Monash University (Melbourne), and archaeology at La Trobe University (Melbourne).

Since coming back to the ANU in July 2013, I successfully Convened the Masters of Archaeological Science program (until September 2015). During this time, I revamped the program to develop a more rigorous curriculum for training in archaeological science. From September 2015, I have taken over the role of Associate Dean (HDR) within the College of Arts and Social Sciences.


Researcher's projects

Geoarchaeological investigations in Australia: Lake Mungo, Kakadu/Western Arnhem, Torres Strait
Geoarchaeology specialist
ARC Discovery Grant (for Mungo, DP150100487), Primary research ongoing (2012-ongoing)

Multi-disciplinary investigation (archaeology, genetics and linguistics) of banana domestication
Co-primary investigator
Banana working group ongoing (eg, Perrier et al. 2011)

Multi-disciplinary investigation (archaeology and genetics) of food plants in northern Australia
Co-primary investigator
Archaeobotanical investigations in Kakadu/Western Arnhem Land (2011-ongoing); Genetic analyses of modern food plants (2011-ongoing)
CSIRO Research Collaboration (2009-2010), Monash Researcher Accelerator Program (2011-2012), Australia-Pacific Science Foundation (2012-2013)

New Guinea’s place in Island Southeast Asia (archaeology, genetics and linguistics)
Co-primary investigator
Research ongoing (2011-ongoing)
ARC Discovery Grant (DP1093191; 2010-2013)

The later agricultural phases at Kuk Swamp, Papua New Guinea
Primary investigator
Research complete, publications on archaeobotany and palaeoecology in prep.
Monash Research Fellowship (2006-2012) and others

Multidisciplinary investigation (archaeology, redating and palaeoecology) of occupation sites in the highlands of Papua New Guinea
Primary investigator
Research complete, publications in prep.
ARC Discovery Grant (DP0666524; 2006-2009)


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Updated:  20 August 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers