Skip to main content
Ancient rock art.
Faculties and schools_

Department of Archaeology

Examining and preserving the material remains of our human past
Our department offers teaching and research in archaeology, the study of the material remains of the past.

Our academics and researchers have a broad range of expertise in archaeological method and theory including key areas of archaeometry, digital technology, archaeozoology, lithics and ceramics analysis. 

They conduct fieldwork in regions around the world, including East and Southeast Asia (Angkor in Cambodia), the Caucasus, China, Central Asia (Uzbekistan), the Middle East (Iran, Jordan), Africa and the Mediterranean (Cyprus, Greece, Italy) and Sri Lanka. Our teaching program reflects these regional interests.  

Our study offering

Learn how to reconstruct ancient cultures from the material residues of their activities and how to interpret archaeological evidence to influence the present. Gain an understanding of the methods and thinking with which archaeologists interpret past lives. Answer the most crucial questions about prehistoric and historic societies, and experience a far-reaching focus on Australia, the broader Near East and classical Mediterranean societies.



*Available to all students studying the Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Visual Arts, as well as all combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies degrees.  


Museum and Heritage Studies will equip you with a contextual understanding of core historical and theoretical developments in museum and heritage studies. You will learn the frameworks for managing collections and sites and develop a practical understanding of the modes of interpretation used in the museum and heritage sector.



The research programs involve independent research work and the preparation of a thesis under the supervision of the director of the program, and other academic staff in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Our research

Our internationally recognised scholars conduct fieldwork all over the world. They also specialise in six broad regional and thematic research programs:

  • Australia and the Pacific
  • Human Cultural Evolution
  • Mediterranean
  • West, Central and East Asian archaeology
  • Southeast Asia
  • Urbanism

Research centres

Our people

  • Valerie Attenbrow
  • Jean (Judy) Birmingham
  • Stephen Bourke
  • Steve Brown
  • Ross Burns
  • Mary Casey
  • Gino Caspari
  • Marie-Laure Chambrade
  • Kathryn Da Costa
  • Jean-Paul Descoeudres
  • Paul Donnelly
  • Smadar Gabrieli
  • Martin Gibbs
  • Ian Gilligan
  • J. Richard Green
  • Professor Barbara Helwing
  • Thomas Hikade
  • Monica Jackson
  • Antoniet Jeradino Wiesenborn
  • Ina Kehrberg-Ostrasz
  • Melissa Kennedy
  • Michael Knight
  • Nina Kononenko
  • Alba Mazza
  • Bernadette McCall
  • Ian McNiven
  • Wendy Reade
  • James Specht
  • Miriam Stark
  • Hugh Thomas
  • Robin Torrence
  • Peter Veth
  • John Peter White
  • Yasmina Wicks
  • Steven Wolverton
  • Richard Wright
  • Abdul Zahir Youssofzay

Our events

Curriculum, careers, and cracking the job market

Career opportunities for Archaeology graduates: a panel discussion
Thursday 10 October, 5-7:30pm

The Department of Archaeology would like to invite you to a panel discussion and networking opportunity where you can hear from recent graduates about their journeys from graduation to work. 

Click here for more information and to register

Seminars, workshops and conferences

The Department of Archaeology holds regular seminars, as well as workshops conferences, and contributes to events run by our reseach centres.

For information on all our events, please visit SOPHI Events

This annual lecture is made possible through the generosity of University of Sydney graduate Tom Austen Brown (LLB ’46 BA ’74).

In his early professional life, Tom was a lawyer but had the heart of an archaeologist, often searching for Aboriginal artefacts in the sand dunes and desert flats around Broken Hill, where he lived. Without realising it, he put together one of the most significant – yet unofficial – collections of Aboriginal stone artefacts in Australia. He completed archaeology studies at the University in 1973.

During his life, Tom gave $1.6 million to the University, and on his passing in 2009, left a $6.9 million bequest to the Department of Archaeology. Tom’s bequest has already created the Chair of Australian Archaeology, the first endowed chair of archaeology in the country to include Australia in its brief. There is also the Tom Austen Brown Grants Program for Prehistory.

Tom has helped create a future for Australia’s past.

From the desert to the sea:  symbolic transformations in the human journey in Australia’s north- west

Jo McDonald
Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management
at the University of Western Australia

Click here for more information and to register

Comparative ethnology and archaeology

3 August 2018

Dr Mark Collard, Canada Research Chair and Professor, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Click here for the podcast

Comparative ethnology is the practice of comparing and contrasting the features of large samples of human societies. Also known as cross-cultural analysis, it has a long association with archaeology. For example, the pioneering archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers was also an exponent of comparative ethnology. Similarly, the career-capping book of the most influential archaeologist of the second half of the 20th century, Lewis Binford, is a work of comparative ethnology. However, comparative ethnology has never been considered a key archaeological tool. In this talk, I will argue that it should be. Drawing on my own work and that of colleagues, I will show that there are both theoretical and practical reasons for archaeologists to enthusiastically embrace comparative ethnology. Adding it to the techniques that we expect archaeology undergraduate students to know will enable the discipline to make faster progress with the task of making sense of the patterns in the archaeological record.

Sentient seascapes: the archaeology of ritual engagements with the marine realm

11 August 2017

Professor Ian J McNiven, Monash University

There is an old saying in archaeology that if you find something that is behaviourally odd or out-of-the-ordinary then label it ritual. Yet for Australian Indigenous societies, ritual practices, especially those of a socio-religious nature, are anything but out-of-the-ordinary. 

Ritual practices are fundamental to how Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders direct their lives and relate to each other, to the spiritual realm, and to the broader world. As such, understanding the nature and long-term development of past rituals and ceremonial practices provides enormous scope for archaeologists to create historical narratives that express human and spiritual agency and intentionality that resonate with Indigenous worldviews. 

In this paper, I explore the history of Torres Strait Islander ritual practices over the past 1000 years from an ethnographically informed archaeological perspective. We will start with the materiality of ritual practices as known ethnographically through historical texts, museum objects, and contemporary Islander views. Critically, many ritual practices also involved shrines comprising objects such as shells, bones, artefacts, and stone figures that can be studied archaeologically and radiocarbon dated. Results reveal successive use of shrines expressed through constant additions of objects over hundreds of years. 

These chronologies not only define the temporal limits of ethnographically known practices back in time, but also position shrines as historically dynamic and ever-emergent works-in-progress. The ever-changing materiality of shrines was an expression of ritual constancy and historical continuity in the socio-religious lives of Torres Strait Islanders.

Environmental conservation and archaeology

8 August 2016

Dr Steve Wolverton, University of North Texas 

Archaeologists contribute data and perspectives to conservation biology, restoration ecology and environmental science. Although zooarchaeology, and to a lesser extent archaeobotany, have led the way, what archaeology truly has to offer stems from the unique nature of the discipline. Archaeology is the only field of study that offers a long-term record of human-environmental interactions. There are two major contributions that archaeologists provide conservationists, one philosophical and one empirical. The value of archaeology in environmental conservation is easily demonstrated through exemplary case studies.

Fellowship opportunities

The Apollo Progam

This program funds an annual fellowship for one of the centre's collaborators (the Department of Classics and Ancient History, the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, the Department of Archaeology and the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation). The Apollo Fellowship encourages collaboration between international and local scholars.

The fellowship is open to young scholars from any country outside Australia within three years after the award of their PhD. Students in the final stages of the writing of their PhD thesis may also apply, if they can demonstrate the benefit of consulting academic expertise at the University of Sydney for the completion of their doctorate.

2019 Applications open

 Applications are invited for a short‐term Visiting Fellowship at the Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia (CCANESA) at The University of Sydney, for tenure during the 2020 Australian academic year.

Click here to download information on the application process (PDF 104kb)

Applications close 31 May 2019

Banner image: Aboriginal rock art at Yankee Hat in Namadgi National Park, ACT. Photo by James Flexner.

Department Chair

Professor Margaret Miller

Featured news

See more