Research Projects

Early hominins and the Oldowan to Acheulian transition (5 Ma – 1 Ma)

  • Partner Investigator, Langebaanweg Fossil Park. In collaboration with Dave Roberts (Council for Geosciences, South Africa). I was invited in 2008 to undertake geological and palaeomagnetic analysies of this important Miocene/Pliocene fossil locality, the only one of its age in South Africa. We recently dated it to between 5.2 and 5.1 Ma (Roberts et al., 2011).

  • Chief Investigator. Hoogland and Haasgat Caves Project,(South Africa). In collaboration with Justin Adams (Biomedical Sciences, Grand Valley State University), Jason Hemingway, Anthony Kegley (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa) and Francis Thackeray (Transvaal Museum, South Africa). My preliminary palaeomagnetic work suggests the fauna from this site dates to between 3.1 and 2.6 Ma (Adams et al., 2010). Funded by PAST, Ford Foundation and NSF until 2012.

  • Chief Investigator. Taung, South Africa. Uranium-lead, paaleomagnetic and palaeoenvironmental analysis of the Plio-Plesitocene, Taung hominin bearing tufas. This work is pioneering the direct dating of calcite crystals in bones using U-Pb. The aim is to get a more precise date for the Taung Child hominin skull. In collaboration with Phil Hopley (University College London), Brian Kuhn (U. Witwatersrand) and Colin Menter (University of Johannesburg). Funding from National Geographic.

  • Associate Investigator. Koobi Fora, Kenya. This project is directed by Jack Harris (Rutgers University, U.S.A) and David Braun (University of Cape Town, South Africa). I joined this project in 2007 to undertake magnetostratigraphic studies of Pliocene archaeological sites in the Ileret Region of Koobi Fora, Kenya. Work on one site (Fwjj20) is published in Braun et al., 2010. My role in the project is to expand the palaeomagnetic work to the regional level enabling the dating of several more sites.


  • Chief Investigator. Drimolen Palaeocave, South Africa. In collaboration with Colin Menter (University of Johannesburg). I am conducting palaeomagnetic analysis of this Paranthropus robustus bearing site.
  • Associate Investigator. Coopers Palaeocave, South Africa. In collaboration with Christine Steininger (University of the Witwatersrand). I am conducting palaeomagnetic analysis of this Paranthropus robustus bearing site.
  • Chief Investigator. Malapa and Gladysvale Palaeocaves, South Africa. In collaboration with Lee Berger (U. Wits), Paul Dirks (James Cook Uni.) Robyn Pickering (U. Melbourne). I am correlating geochronological and palaeoenvironemntal analysis of this newly discovered hominin bearting site. The type site for the new species. Au. sediba. Funded by PAST.


Middle Pleistocene Homo and the late Acheulian of Africa (1 Ma – 200 ka)

  • Chief Investigator. Cornelia Research Project, South Africa. In collaboration with James Brink (National Museum, South Africa). I joined this project in 2008 to undertake palaeomagnetic analysis of the hominin bearing hyena den deposits. The locality has several sites ranging from 1.1 Ma to the MSA. Excavation has been concentrated in a ~1.0 Ma hyena den with intrusive Acheulian artefacts and a hominin tooth. Associated archaeological levels represent a series of palaeolandsurfaces containing Acheulian artefacts and fossils.
  • Chief Investigator. Northern Cape Palaeontological Survey.In collaboration with James Brink (National Museum, South Africa), Darren Curnoe (UNSW), John Gowlett (Uni Liverpool). This project took place in July 2008 and involved extensive field survey for new archaeological and fossil sites across the Northern Cape and Free State of South Africa. Several fossil localities were discovered along with numerous archaeological sites covering a variety of periods. Excavations are planned at one of these sites near Port Nolloth in 2012. The site contains stratified marine and terrestrial fauna along with Acheulian artefacts.
  • Chief Investigator. Behavioural ecology of Middle Pleistocene Hominins along the West Coast of South Africa. In collaboration with David Braun (UCT, S. Africa), Naomi Levin (John Hopkins University, US). The first excavations were undertaken at the site of Elandsfontein in January 2009. My role is to conduct palaeomagnetic analysis to date the Acheulian and hominin bearing site.
  • Chief Investigator. Cliff Point Research project. In collaboration with Kaye Reed (Arizona State University), Dave Roberts (Council for Geosciences, South Africa) and Deano Stynder (University of Cape Town, South Africa). I am working on the geochronology of these Acheulian and fossil bearing deposits along the west coast of South Africa.
  • Chief Investigator, Kilombe Archaeological Project. In collaboration with John Gowlett (University of Liverpool, U.K.). Excavations are currently taking place at the Kilombe Acheulian site. I am conducting geoarchaeolgoical and geochronological work.
  • Chief Investigator. Buffalo Cave Research Project, Makapansgat, South Africa. In collaboration with James Brink (Nat. Museum, Bloemfontein), Phil Hopley (UCL, UK) and Kevin Kuykendall (U. Sheffield). Breccia from this early Pleistocene fossil site is currently being prepared along with palaeoenvironmental work on speleothem deposits

Modern Human Origins (200- 50 ka)

  • Chief Investigator. Modern Human Origins in Yunnan Province, China (with Darren Curnoe, Paul Tacon, Ji Xueping, Su Bing).This is a new research project set up between UNSW (Australia), Griffith University (Australia), the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology (China) and the Kunming Institute of Zoology (China). The aim is to excavate and study a series of rock art and hominin fossil sites in the region. My roles in the project are to direct excavations and undertake palaeoenvironmental and geochronological analysis as well as help plan and direct excavations and sampling. Funded until 2012 by ARC.


  • Chief Investigator, Site Director and Rope Access Technician. SACP4/MAP, South Africa. These joint projects are run by Curtis Marean at Arizona State University (Institute of Human Origins), U.S.A. I joined the Mossel Bay Archaeological Project in March 2003 as a research specialist and retuned on field seasons in 2004 and 2005. MAP concentrated on the archaeological excavation of a series of Middle Stone Age and modern human bearing caves at Pinnacle Point, along the Western Cape coast of South Africa.Excavations at one of these caves have revealed the oldest Middle Stone Age occupation of the Cape coast, use of ochre and systematic exploitation of marine resources (Marean et al., 2007 Nature). In 2006, the SACP4 project was initiated after receiving an American Research Foundation hominid grant for US$2,500,000. As part of this project I undertake excavation, exploration, survey and sampling of inaccessible sites using my rock climbing and caving experience and continue my work as a geoarchaeological and archaeomagnetic research specialist (Marean et al., 2010; Herries and Fisher, 2010). In 2006 I directed geological sampling (archaeomagnetism, micromorphology, uranium series, OSL, isotopes) at a series of the Pinnacle Point caves that are only accessible by rock climbing. In October – December 2006 I directed excavations at a further series of Middle Stone Age bearing caves that also require access using rope (Cave 9 Complex; Matthews et al., 2011). Work is also being undertaken at the site of pp5/6 (Brown et al., 2009)
  • Partner Investigator. Mucho Barago Cave Project, Ethiopia. In collaboration with Erich Fisher and Steven Brandt (University of Florida, U.S.) I was invited onto this project in 2008 to investigate sediment sourcing at this Later Stone age site by looking at the mineral magnetic analysis of cave sediments. Future aims include identifying short term geomagnetic field shifts recorded in volcanic tephra horizons within the cave sequence.
  • Associate Investigator. Sibudu Cave Research Project, South Africa. With Lyn Wadley (U. Witwatersrand) I have been undertaking magnetic work on fireplaces and climate change at Sibudu Cave since 2001. I am now concentrating on an anlysis of the ochre from the site.


  • Partner Investigator. The ESA to MSA transition in Malawi. In collaboration with Jessica Thompson (University of Queensland). I am undertaking palaeomagnetic analysis and geoarchaeological studies on iron pans containing MSA deposits. Funded by the ARC.

Prehistory (last 50 ka)

  • Chief Investigator Thundza Regional archaeological Project (Bulgaria). In collaboration with Shawn Ross (Ancient History, UNSW). Until recently this has focused on the Thracian site of Kabile. The project is now expanding to undertake widespread field survey in the Thundza Region of Bulgaria as well as conduct palaeoclimate work on Pleistocene and Holocene lake sediments. My role in the project is to co-ordinate archaeological science research and co-ordinate archaeomagnetic investigations of lake sediments and burnt structures. I have also been undertaking field survey for Palaeolithic to Mesolithic occupation in the caves of the region. Funded by ARC linkage Grant 2009-2011.
  • Chief Investigator. Archaeomagnetism of the southern hemisphere. In association with Mimi Hill (University of Liverpool). Work on southern Africa and Australia pottery and hearth rocks for the creation of regional archaeomagnetic curves.
  • Chief Investigator, Project Director Ghaap Archaeology, Palaeoanthropology and Palaeoclimate Project (GAPP), South Africa (with Darren Curnoe). This project has been running since June 2004 (Curnoe et al., 2005 NyAk). Excavation was undertaken at two Localities; 1) Molony’s Kloof Locality A (MK-A) and 2) Groot Kloof Locality B (GK-B). At MK-A excavations have revealed the presence of three phases including Herder, late Holocene Later Stone Age and a pre-Holocene Later Stone Age occupation.
  • Chief Investigator. Recovering palaeoclimate data from archaeological caves. Ongoing multi-site project in collaboration with numerous archaeologists working in Australia, Africa, Bulgaria, Greece, China and Spain


Australia and SE. Asia

  •  Chief Investigator. Wellington Regional Caves Project, Australia. In collaboration with Mike Augee (Wellington Caves Research Centre), Armstrong Osbourne (University of Sydney), Andy Baker (UNSW). This project is looking at the age of fossil bearing caves and palaeokarst in the Wellington Region of NSW.
  • Commercial Archaeology Work. Archaeomagnetism of Australian archaeological caves. In collaboration with Boone Law and Dawn Cropper (Australian Cultural Heritage Management). Work on a series of sites in Australia.
  • Chief Investigator. Lake Mungo (NSW) in collaboration with Nikki Stern (La Trobe University) and Rainer Grun (ANU).