Professor Tim Denham

BA (Hons.) (Cambridge), MS (PennState), PhD (ANU)
Professor of Archaeological Science
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
  • Archaeology Of Asia, Africa And The Americas 210103

Research interests

1. Exploitation, cultivation and domestication of vegetatively reproducing plants

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 for New Guinea and Southeast Asia. Drawing on this experience, I have become interested in the domestication of vegetatively propagated food plants in the wet tropics, especially bananas (Musa cvs), as well as domestication pathways for various groups of crop plants, and have also broadened my geographical focus to extend from northern Australia to southern China. I founded and lead the TropArch research group in Tropical Archaeobotany at the ANU.

Key Publications

Fuller, D.Q., T.P. Denham and R. Allaby 2023. Plant domestication and agricultural ecologies. Current Biology 33: R636–R649.

Denham, T.P., H. Barton, C. Castillo, A. Crowther, E. Dotte-Sarout, S.A. Florin, J. Pritchard, A. Barron, Y. Zhang and D.Q. Fuller. 2020. The domestication syndrome in vegetatively propagated field crops. Annals of Botany 125: 581-597.

Williams, R.N., D. Wright, A. Crowther and T.P. Denham 2020. Multidisciplinary evidence for early banana (Musa cvs.) cultivation on Mabuyag Island, Torres Strait. Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Denham, T.P. 2018. Tracing Early Agriculture in the Highlands of New Guinea: Plot, Mound and Ditch. Oxford: Routledge. Paperback edition 2020.

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.

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  2011. Multidisciplinary perspectives on banana (Musa spp.) domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 108: 11311-11318.

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


2. MicroCT applications in archaeobotany, geoarchaeology and natural science 

The TropArch research group has developed new archaeobotanical applications of microCT imaging and visualisation technologies. Foremost, we are using the technique to determine the domestication status of archaeobotanical inclusions and impressions within pottery, including: spikelet bases of rice in Southeast Asia, sorghum rachis in Sudan, and pearl millet involucres/bracts in Mali. The technique is especially suited to wet tropical and arid environments with poor archaeobotanical preservation.

We are also revitalising research on archaeological parenchyma, effectively a missing link for understanding ancient plant use. At TropArch, we are developing a microCT on-line reference database (to be hubbed@ANU with support of RSPhys) of archaeological parenchyma and key reference plants in the Indo-Pacific region to enable remote virtual histological examination. We are also applying the technique to archaeological parenchyma from Australia, New Guinea, Southeast Asia, southern China and beyond.

Over the last few years, my interests have broadened to include microCT applications in the natural sciences, especially the biological and earth sciences. I lead the Heritage Science spoke of the ARC-funded Industry Transformation Training Centre in Multiscale 3D Imaging, Modelling and Manufacturing (also known as 'M3D Innovation' -

Key Publications

White, J.M., A. Barron, M.R. McCurry and T.P. Denham 2023. Investigating gut contents of the leptocleidian plesiosaur Umoonasaurus demoscyllus using micro-CT imaging. Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology DOI: 10.1080/03115518.2023.2194944.

Barron, A., J. Pritchard and T.P. Denham 2022. Identifying archaeological parenchyma in three dimensions: Diagnostic assessment of five important food plant species in the Indo-Pacific region. Archaeology in Oceania 57: 189-213.

Barron, A., D.Q. Fuller, C. Stevens, L. Champion, F. Winchell and T.P. Denham 2020. Snapshots in time: MicroCT scanning of pottery sherds determines early domestication of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) in East Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 123: Article 105259.

Barron, A., I. Datan, P. Bellwood, R. Wood, D.Q. Fuller and T.P. Denham 2020. Sherds as archaeobotanical assemblages: Gua Sireh reconsidered. Antiquity 94: 1325-1336.

Pritchard, J., T. Lewis, L. Beeching and T.P. Denham 2019. An assessment of microCT technology for the investigation of charred archaeological parenchyma from house sites at Kuk Swamp, Papua New Guinea. Journal of Anthropological and Archaeological Sciences 11: 1927-1938.

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.


3. 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

Grono, E.G., P.J. Piper, D. Ngoc Kinh, P. Bellwood, T.P. Denham and D.E. Friesem 2022. Early settlement construction in Southeast Asia: Lime mortar floor sequences at Loc Giang, southern Vietnam. Antiquity 96: 1538-1554.

Prossor, L., T.P. Denham, F. Brink, U. Troitzsch and N. Stern 2022. The microstratigraphic investigation of hearth features at Lake Mungo, Australia. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 46: 103711.

Herries, A.I.R., J.M. Martin, A.B. Leece, J.W. Adams, G. Boschian, R. Joannes-Boyau, T.R. Edwards, T. Mallett, J. Massey, A. Murszewski, S. Neubauer, R. Pickering, D.S. Strait, B.J. Armstrong, S. Baker, M.V. Caruana, T.P. Denham, J. Hellstrom, J. Moggi-Cecchi, S. Mokobane, P. Penzo-Kajewski, D.S. Rovinsky, G.T. Schwartz, R.C. Stammers, C. Wilson, J. Woodhead and C. Menter. 2020. Contemporaneity of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo erectus in South Africa. Science 368: eaaw7293 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw7293.

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.

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.

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.


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

I work 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. and M. Donohue 2023. Putting the Dark Emu debate into context. Archaeology in Oceania

Grimaldi, I.M., T.R. Van Andel and T.P. Denham 2022. Looking beyond history: Tracing the dispersal of the Malaysian complex of crops to Africa. American Journal of Botany 109: 193-208.

Denham, T.P., Y. Zhang and A. Barron 2018. Is there a centre of early agriculture and plant domestication in southern China? Antiquity 92: 1165-1179.

Denham, T.P. 2017. Breaking down barriers: Prehistoric species dispersals across Island Southeast Asia, New Guinea and Australia. In N. Boivin, R. Cressard and M. Petraglia (eds.) Human Dispersals and Species Movements: From Prehistory to the Present, pp. 164-193. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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

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


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), 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, 2021-ongoing).

Since coming back to the ANU in July 2013, I convened the Masters of Archaeological Science program until September 2015, and have now returned to that role from April 2022. From September 2015 to September 2016, I was Associate Dean (HDR) within the College of Arts and Social Sciences. From October 2016 to September 2020, I was an 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. Since completing my Future Fellowship I have returned to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in archaeological science.

I have become a hybrid researcher who has made substantive contributions to several cross-disciplinary fields, as well as to archaeology. I do not feel bound by disciplinary boundaries in the pursuit of research questions or in terms of the methods adopted to address them. As my research career has progressed, my activities have increasingly become focussed upon the promotion of others (ECRs and HDRs), as demonstrated through the establishment of two important research collectives: Geoarchaeology Research Group (GRG) and TropArch (Tropical Archaeobotany). Members of these research groups are applying new methodologies and technologies - including microarchaeology, QEMSCAN and microCT - to archaeological questions, including the transitions to sedentary living, the emergence of early agriculture, and tropical plant domestication.

Current student projects

PhD Students:  Chair/Primary Supervisor

Vida Kusmartono, Human occupation in the interior equatorial rainforest of Kalimantan: an archaeological and comparative study

Alexandra Ribeny, Fuelling the Khmer: anthracology, tropical deforestation and expansion, c. 11th – 15th centuries AD.

Tracey Pilgrim, Petrographic analysis of Metal-Age pottery assemblages at Catanauan, Philippines.

Diana Tung People, palms and edible grubs: commodification and development in Iquitos, Peru

Elaine Lin, Plant exploitation and environmental change in upland Borneo.

Joshua White, The diet of ancient marine reptiles.


PhD Students: Member of Supervisory Panel

Robert Williams A story in stone: An archaeological study of the cultural landscape, West Futuna, Vanuatu

Yannick Pommery The evolution of craniofacial growth and development in bats

Past student projects

Recent PhD Students

Elle Grono, Settlement at the Micro-Scale: Microstratigraphy and micromorphology of transitional Neolithic settlement sites in Vietnam (5000 cal BP to 2500 cal BP). (Chair/Primary, Submitted and Awarded 2020)

Warren Gumbley, The Waikato Horticultural Complex: An archaeological reconstructon of a Polynesian horticultural system. (Associate Supervisor, Submitted and Awarded 2021)

Michelle Richards Polynesian exchanges, negotiated cross-cultural engagements and Western trade: A contribution from pXRF analyses in museum collections. (Associate Supervisor, Submitted and Awarded 2021)

Yekun Zhang, Archaeobotanical and palaeoecological investigations at three riverine shell middens dating to the early-mid Holocene, Yongjiang River, Guangxi, southern China. (Chair/Primary, Submitted 2021, Awarded 2022)

Aleese Barron, Archaeobotanical applications of microCT imaging. (Chair/Primary, Submitted and Awarded 2022)

Lauren Prossor, Geoarchaeological investigations of sedentism at a Natufian site, Wadi Hammeh 27, Jordan (Chair/Primary, Submitted and Awarded 2023)


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Updated:  23 May 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers