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The Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory

TAALs 2014 staff and students

TAALs 2014 staff and students


The Australian Archaeomagnetism Laboratory (TAAL) is a purpose built archaeological geophysics laboratory located in the Department of Archaeology, Environment & Community Planning at La Trobe University, (LTU) Melbourne (Australia) and is run by Associate Professor Andy I.R. Herries. TAAL’s initial incarnation began at UNSW between 2008 and 2011. The current facility was built at LTU between 2011 and 2012 as a student training and research laboratory specifically designed for work on archaeological and fossil bearing sites as part of the development of archaeological science, archaeometry and geoarchaeological research and teaching within Archaeology at LTU. Undergraduate students undertaking the BA Archaeology or majoring in archaeology through the BA Arts or BSc Applications in Society degrees at LTU can volunteer in the lab and learn to measure on the equipment as part of their prerequisite for Honours (email to volunteer). Honours student projects are available (Student Projects Page) and are designed to lead to a publishable research. HDR student projects are also available with funding opportunities through LTU.


– For current laboratory projects see the PROJECTS page and LAB STAFF and STUDENTS page.

- Cross correlation of geochronological methods (palaeomagnetism, U-series, ESR, cosmogenics, biochronology)

- Palaeomagnetic and micromorphological analysis and magnetostratigraphic dating of archaeological and fossil sites, notably related to human and marsupial origins.

PYROMAGNETISM: Mineral magnetic and palaeomagnetic analysis of fire and Palaeolithic and Prehistoric pyrotechnology, including stone tool heat treatment.

– Multi-dimensional GIS modelling of mineral magnetism on archaeological sites to evaluate spatial patterning, occupation intensity, site formation processes and environmental change

SPELEOMAGNETISM: The palaeomagentic analysis of palaeokarst and speleothems and the direct dating of geomagentic field reversals, events and excursions,

– Archaeomagnetic dating and the building of an Australian and South African archaeomagnetic reference curve.

TAAL student Rhiannon Ashton measuring Acheulian bearing sediments from Kilombe, Kenya, for her honours project

TAAL and LTU Archaeology student Rhiannon Ashton measuring Acheulian and fossil bearing sediments from Kilombe, Kenya, for her honours project. As is the aim with all TAAL student projects her work will soon be submitted for publication in a leading science journal.

What is Archaeomagnetism?

Archaeomagnetism as defined here is the use of magnetic methods of analysis on archaeological materials and deposits, although in its widest context it refers to the magnetisation of any materials relating to archaeological times. It is most widely known for its use in dating, but more recently it has been utilised for other purposes including site survey, sourcing and palaeoclimatic reconstruction. These applications have different site requirements, as discussed below. Two main methods of analysis exist: those that look at the direction and intensity of fossil remnant magnetisations, as in palaeomagnetism; and those related to looking at the mineralogy, grain size and concentration of minerals within a rock or sediment, as in mineral (rock, environmental) magnetism. In the later case, identification of these parameters is achieved by different types and strengths of laboratory-induced remnant magnetisations and/or heat into samples to see how they react or alter. Magnetic methods have, over the last 10 years, been increasingly used as a Quaternary method of analysis for a variety of applications including dating, sediment-source tracing, and palaeoenvironmental/climatic reconstruction. While these methods have been used on some archaeological sites, their application has been sporadic and their potential as a major tool for reconstructing archaeological data remains underutilized. For more information on: Herries 2009 Archaeomagentic Methods

Laboratory Research Networks

AFRICAN ORIGINS: The laboratory is part of a Melbourne based research network in African Palaeoanthropology and Evolution (APE@MELBS) that links La Trobe Archaeology’s research strength in African Archaeology with researchers at Monash and the University of Melbourne. This network has a particular focus on the South African hominin, archaeological and fossil record and is in partnership with the Centre for Anthropological Research at the University of Johannesburg; with whom the laboratory runs a Geoarchaeology and Palaeoanthropology Fieldschool at the Drimolen Hominin site.

TRANSFORMING HUMAN SOCIETIES: The lab is part of La Trobe University’s research focus  on the past record of human origins, migrations and interactions with changing climate and environment. The laboratory’s main focus is on the origins and spread of humans and their technology (e.g heat treatment) throughout the globe by dating archaeological and fossil sites to understand early human biogeography.

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE ARCHAEOMAGNETISM: The laboratory also has close links with the University of Liverpool Geomagnetism Laboratory in the UK working on southern hemisphere geomagnetic field variation through time.

PHYSICS RESEARCH: The lab has close links with the Dept. Physics at LTU. The Laboratory staff and students also undertake research at ANSTO through the AINSE funding program and at the Australian Synchrotron.

PROJECTS: The lab is currently working on projects in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Armenia, Bulgaria and Australia. For recent information on the labs involvement in the discovery of Australopithecus sediba in Africa, the Red Deer Cave People in China or early evidence for modern human behaviour at Pinnacle Point, S. Africa see the lab publication page and/or media page.


TAAL also runs:

Australian Geoarchaeological and Palaeoanthropological Field School at Drimolen (South Africa): June 26 – July 16th 2015

Drimolen palaeocave is the third richest richest hominin bearing deposit in South Africa and has yielded fossils of Paranthropus robustus, early Homo and a wealth of other species, including a vast collection of non-human primatesThe site has also yielded evidence for early bone tool use.

Students and Staff of the 2014 Field School at the Drimolen hominin site, S. Africa

Students and Staff of the 2014 Field School at the Drimolen hominin site, S. Africa


Excavations will again be taking place at Drimolen in collaboration between La Trobe University Department of Archaeology and History, the Centre for Anthropological Research at the University of Joahnnesburg and the Dept. Anatomy and Developmental Biology at Monash University. Excavations will be directed by Assoc. Professor Andy Herries and Dr Colin Menter and will take place June 26- July 16th 2015.  Both the 2013 and 2014 field school excavations were a tremendous success and have yielded hominin remains, bone tools and an extensive array of fossils, including articulated partial skeletons. The field school has a focus on Hominin Palaeobiology, Quaternary African palaeontology and how to excavate bone as well as geoarchaeological and geophysical applications, although the 2015 field school will have an increasing focus on the early stone age archaeological record. Current student projects associated with the school can be viewed on the staff and student page and in 2015 we hope to have a further 5 studentships open as part of the project at LTU and Monash. Costs apply and for information about attending the field school please e-mail: ozarchaeomag@gmail.com






E-mail:  OzArchaeomag@gmail.com


Disclaimer: please note that all views expressed on this website are the sole view of A/Prof. A.I.R.Herries and not La Trobe University.

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