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The Australian National University

Associate Professor Tim Denham

BA (Hons.) (Cambridge), MS (PennState), PhD (ANU)
ARC Future Fellow
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. I lead the TropArch research group in Tropical Archaeobotany at the ANU.

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. 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 revealed by an expanding archaeological record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 111: 6147-6152.

Golson, J., T.P. Denham, P.J. Hughes, P. Swadling and J. Muke (eds.) 2017. Ten Thousand Years of Cultivation at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Terra Australis 46. Canberra: ANU E Press.

Barron, A. M. Turner, L. Beeching, P. Bellwood, P. Piper, E. Grono, R. Jones, M. Oxenham, N.K.T. Kien, T. Senden and T.P. Denham 2017. MicroCT reveals domesticated rice (Oryza sativa) within pottery sherds from early Neolithic sites (4150-3265 cal BP) in Southeast Asia. Scientific Reports 7.


 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 in Australia, Mexico, South Africa and elsewhere. I am particularly interested in how human-environment interactions in the past can be used to better understand environmental problems in the present/future. I lead the Geoarchaeology Research Group (GRG) at the ANU.

Key publications:

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.

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

Denham, T.P. and E. Grono 2017. Sediments or soils? Multi-scale geoarchaeological investigations of stratigraphy and early cultivation practices at Kuk Swamp, highlands of Papua New Guinea. Journal of Archaeological Science 77: 160-171.

Edwards, T., E. Grono, A.I.R. Herries, F.J. Brink, U. Troitzsch, T. Senden, M. Turner, A. Barron, L. Prossor and T.P. Denham 2017. Visualising scales of process: Multi-scalar geoarchaeological investigations of microstratigraphy and diagenesis at hominin bearing sites in South African karst. Journal of Archaeological Science 83: 1-11.


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.

Denham, T.P. and J.P. White (eds.) 2016. Renewing the Past: Sue Bulmer’s Contribution to the Archaeology of Papua New Guinea. Archaeology in Oceania, Special Issue 51(S1).


Additionally, I was 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, 2001-2002), in archaeology at Flinders University (Adelaide, 2002-2004), environmental change at Monash University (Melbourne, 2009-2012), archaeology at La Trobe University (Melbourne, 2013) and archaeological science at the Australian National University(Canberra, 2013-2015).

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 to September 2016, I was Associate Dean (HDR) within the College of Arts and Social Sciences. Since October 2016, I have been a research only ARC Future Fellow undertaking research on plant exploitation, early cultivation and plant domestication in the wet tropics of Papua New Guinea, Island Southeast Asia and northern Australia. As part of this research, my research group is developing expertise and applying new technologies - principally microCT - to the development of archaeobotanical reference collections. 


Researcher's projects

Geoarchaeological investigations in Australia Lake Mungo), Torres Strait, South Africa and elsewhere
Geoarchaeology specialist, Secondary investigator
ARC Discovery Grant (for Mungo, DP150100487; 2015-2018), Primary research ongoing


Multi-disciplinary investigation (archaeobotany and genetics) of food plants in northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia
Primary investigator
ARC Future Fellowship (FT150100420; 2016-2020), Primary research ongoing on bulding reference collections - archaeological parenchyma, starch granule and phytolith

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


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


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  17 August 2018 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers