Dr Duncan Wright

Studying Australia's Ancient History; PhD Monash University; MA ANU; BA University of Wales, Lampeter
Senior Lecturer
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: (001161) 2 61258936

Areas of expertise

  • Archaeology 2101
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Archaeology 210101
  • Archaeology Of New Guinea And Pacific Islands (Excl. New Zealand) 210106
  • Archaeology Of Australia (Excl. Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander) 210104

Research interests

  • Archaeology of ritual and religion
  • Australian Aboriginal archaeology (primarily Torres Strait) 
  • Community archaeology - including resurrecting forgotten histories through ethnoarchaeology
  • Public Archaeology
  • Archaeology of art


I am a Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University, specialising in Australian Indigenous archaeology. My research involves collaborations with Torres Strait Islander and Australian Aboriginal communities who seek to historicise (through archaeology, including rock art) practices and places of social, political and/ or spiritual significance.

Currently I am working on two Australian Research Council funded projects. The first explores long-term human connections on Australia's northern border (i.e. south coast of New Guinea, Torres Strait, Cape York). At the request of Goemulgal and Meriam communities we are following the footsteps of Waiet (reputed to have brought fertility ceremonies and death dances to Torres Strait), excavating sites accross this Corral Sea region. The other project explores the long term history of the Namunidjbuk estate in the Wellington Range region, Arnhem Land. 

Previously I held research positions at Griffith and Monash Universities and completed a PhD at Monash University in 2010. My thesis explored the potential for using archaeology to historicise ethnographically-signficant "villages" in western Torres Strait. Since beginning my studies at Lampeter University (Wales) in 1998, I have participated in a wide variety of projects including excavations of rock shelters and open sites in Western Australia (Hope Downs) and Arnhem Land (Northern Territory), highland Papua New Guinea (Simbai), Palau (Ulong, Angaur), Torres Strait (Mabuyag) and most recently Czech Republic (Blansko). 

Researcher's projects

Current collaborative research includes excavations at a ceremonial site complex in Torres Strait, a Mid-Upper Palaeolithic site in Czech Republic and public archaeology projects in Canberra and on the South Coast. Projects follow a public (community) archaeology paradigm whereby Indigneous and non-Indigenous custodians are brought to the heart of the debate.



2015-ongoing (ARC Discovery, DP160101832)

History Places: Wellington Range rock art in a global context

Collaborators: Paul Taçon, Sally K. May, Liam Brady, Joakim Goldhahn, Ines. Domingo Sanz

2014-ongoing (ARC Linkage, LP140100387)

Establishing the provenance of Torres Strait Islander remains: genetics, craniometrics and isotopes

Collaborators: D. Lambert, J. Olley, M. Westaway, A. Miller, B. Fry, S. Sankarasubramanian, R. Li


Hominid occupation of Pod Hradem Cave (Czech Republic) during the mid-upper Palaeolithic

Collaborator: L Nejman

Available student projects

Available student projects

Please contact me if you are interested in HDR research in Australian archaeology. Feel free to approach me about research related to my interests (above). Alternatively, specific projects are:

1) Any Torres Strait related archaeology/ history project. Specific examples might be:

  • Study of dugong bone from an initiation site in Western Torres Strait
  • Fish bone and sediment studies relating to the same initiation site
  • Geochemical/ residue testing of artefacts used during the Waiet initiation.

2) Any project relating to the archaeology of ritual and religion e.g.

  • A review of anthropology/ archaeology liteterature relating to ritual procession in the Australia/ Pacific. 
  • Site specific studies based on your own connections with landowners/ Aboriginal communities

3) Partnership projects (as requested by Traditional Custodians) e.g.

  •  Survey/ excavation of a newly discovered stone axe quary with Ngunnuwal and Ngambri.
  • Cultural tourism initiatives that require assistance - chronologies etc - that archaeologists can provide 

3) Environmental change from a 12000 year old site in the Wellington Range, Arnhem Land: Charcoal/ sediment analysis from Mayarnjarn.

4) Environmental change over 70,000 years in the Moravian karst: Microfauna from Pod Hradem Cave, Czech Republic.

5) Archaeology of portable art (this might involve review of museum collections to explore regional and temporal change).

Past student projects

Too many to list! I am very proud of my students. They have done amazing research in Torres Strait, Arnhem Land and Czech Republic and bring the experience of working in remote areas into their present employment in the cultural heritage industry (academic and otherwise).


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:  18 January 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers