Ben Shaw

Ben Shaw is an archaeologist and the Lecturer in Evolution of Cultural Diversity within the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University. Ben’s research is geographically focused on Papua New Guinea where he has undertaken extensive fieldwork over the past 12 years across many island, coastal and highland regions. He has also worked in Australia, New Zealand, and French Polynesia. Ben’s research spans the full length of human history from colonisation through to historic contexts. His major interest is the interplay between past climates, environments, and human behaviours. Specifically, using multidisciplinary approaches to understand how cultural and technological adaptations contributed to the emergence of complex human diversity in the Asia-Pacific region, and globally.

Ben is a New Zealand trained archaeologist and biological anthropologist, having studied at the University of Otago. After working as a consultant in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, he completed a PhD in archaeology at the ANU (2011-2014) for which he developed an archaeological sequence for Rossel Island in eastern Papua New Guinea where a linguistically and genetically unique population live. This was followed by a postdoctoral fellowship (2015-2016) and a DECRA fellowship (2017-2020), both at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. In 2020, he was elected as an International Fellow of the Explorers Club.

Ben is currently working in the Massim Island Region of eastern Papua New Guinea. Here he has established a Late Pleistocene antiquity for human colonisation, defined the timing for the arrival of cultural groups associated with the spread of Austronesian languages (Lapita), and modelled the antiquity of historically known cultural practices. In the Highlands as part of a collaborative transdisciplinary research initiative he has identified sociocultural changes linked to agricultural developments. Prior to this, Ben developed and tested an isotopic approach for identifying migration in the Pacific Islands using human and animal dental remains from archaeological contexts. He is part of an international team recently awarded a Marsden grant (2020-2022) to investigate the Holocene dispersal of people along the northern New Guinea coast. You can view videos of Ben’s fieldwork in Papua New Guinea here.

Research area/theme
Peopling Sahul
Holocene Revolutions
Local Diversification
Island Melanesia after Lapita
Media coverage
Relevant publications

Book Chapters

Rowland, M., Shaw, B. & Ulm, S. (In Press) Maritime island and coastal societies of Australia and New Guinea. In: McNiven, I. & David, B. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Australia and New Guinea.

Shaw, B. (In Press). The human history of the Pacific Islands. In Rehren, T. and Nikita, E. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Archaeology, 2nd Edition. London: Elsevier Science & Technology.

Shaw, B. and Connaughton, S. P. (In Press). Life after Lapita: The diversification of regional cultural identities in the Western Pacific Islands. In Fitzpatrick, S. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Island & Coastal Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shaw, B. & Coxe, S. (In Press). Cannibalism and developments to socio-political systems from 540 BP in the Massim islands of southeast Papua New Guinea. Technical Reports of the Australian Museum online.

Shaw, B. (2022). Palaeolandscapes, radiocarbon chronologies, and the human settlement of southern lowland and island Papua New Guinea, In: Carson MT (ed.), Palaeolandscapes in Archaeology: Lessons for the Past and Future, pp. 215-290. Routledge, New York. ISBN 9780367689032

Shaw, B. (2019). The Massim Island Region. In: Smith, C. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer Reference, New York. Pp 1-15

Journal Articles

Field, J., Shaw, B., & Summerhayes, G. 2022. Pathways to the Interior: Human settlement in the Simbai-Kaironk Valleys of the Madang Province, PNG. Australian Archaeology 88(1): 2-17.

Shaw, B., Hawkins, S., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Turney, C., Coxe, S., Kewibu, V., Haro, J., Miamba, K., Leclerc, M., Spriggs, M., Privat, K., Haberle, S., Hopf, F., Hull, E., Pengilley, A., Brown, S., Marjo, C., Jacobsen, G., & Brooker and Panaeati Island communities, Papua New Guinea. 2022. Frontier Lapita interaction with resident Papuan populations set the stage for initial peopling of the Pacific. Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Shaw, B., Coxes, S., Haro, J., Privat, K., Haberle, S., Hopf, F., Hull, E., Hawkins, S., & Jaconsen, G. (2020) Smallest Late Pleistocene inhabited island in Australasia reveals the impact of post-glacial sea-level rise on human behaviour from 17,000 years ago. Quaternary Science Reviews.

Shaw, B, Field, J, Summerhayes, G, Coxe, S, Coster, A.C.F, Ford, A, Haro, J, Arifeae, H, Hull, E, Jacobsen, G, Fullagar, R, Hayes, E, Kealhofer, L. (2020). Emergence of a Neolithic in Highland New Guinea by 5000-4000 years ago. Science Advances. 6: eaay4573

Shaw, B., Coxe, S., Kewibu, V., Haro, J., Hull, E., Hawkins, S. (2020). 2500-year cultural sequence in the Louisiade Archipelago (Massim region) of eastern Papua New Guinea reflects adaptive strategies to remote islands and changing climatic regimes since Lapita settlement. The Holocene. 30: 1075-1090.

Irwin, G., Shaw, B. & McAlister, A. (2019). The origins of the Kula Ring: Archaeological and maritime perspectives from the southern Massim and Mailu areas of Papua New Guinea. Archaeology in Oceania. 54: 1-16.

Shaw, B, Langley, M. C. (2017). Investigating the development of prehistoric cultural practices in the Massim region of Eastern Papua New Guinea: Insights from the manufacture and use of shell objects in the Louisiade Archipelago. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 48: 149-165.

Summerhayes, G.R., Field, J.H., Shaw, B. & Gaffney, D. (2017). The archaeology of forest exploitation and change in the tropics during the Pleistocene: The case of Northern Sahul (Pleistocene New Guinea) (New Guinea). Quaternary International. 448: 14-30.

Shaw, B. & Dickinson, W. R. (2017). Excavation on Nimowa Island, Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea: Insights into Cultural Practices and the Development of Exchange Networks in the Southern Massim Region. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology. 12: 398-427.

Shaw, B. (2017). Late Pleistocene colonisation of the eastern New Guinea islands? The potential implications of robust waisted stone tool finds from Rossel Island on the long term settlement dynamics in the Massim region. Journal of Pacific Archaeology. 8: 1-16.

Shaw, B. (2016). The late prehistoric introduction of pottery to Rossel Island, Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea: Evidence for regional socio-economic change in the Massim. Archaeology in Oceania. 51: 61-72. (Special issue in honour of the Late Susan Bulmer).

Shaw, B., Leclerc, M., Dickinson, W. R., Spriggs, M. & Summerhayes, G.R. (2016). Identifying prehistoric trade networks in the Massim region, Papua New Guinea: Evidence from petrographic and chemical compositional pottery analyses from Rossel and Nimowa Islands in the Louisiade Archipelago. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 6: 518-535.

Shaw, B. (2016). The Massim region of Papua New Guinea: A review and proposed chronology. Journal of Pacific Archaeology. 7: 106-125. (Special issue in honour of the Late Herman Mandui).

Kinaston, R.L., Walter, R.K., Jacomb, C., Brooks, E., Tayles, N.G., Halcrow, S.E., Stirling, C., Reid, M., Gray, A., Spinks, J., Shaw, B., Fyfe, R., & Buckley, H.R. (2013). The first New Zealanders: Patterns of diet and mobility revealed through isotope analysis. PLoS one. 8: e64580

Kinaston, R., Buckley, H., Gray, A., Shaw, B.& Mandui, H. (2013). Exploring subsistence and cultural complexes on the South Coast of Papua New Guinea using paleodietary analyses. Journal of Archaeological Science. 40: 904-913.

Shaw, B., Buckley, H.R., Summerhayes, G., Stirling, C. & Reid, M. (2011). Prehistoric migration at Nebira, south coast of Papua New Guinea: New insights into interaction using isotope and trace element analyses. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 30: 344-358.

Shaw, B., Buckley, H.R., Summerhayes, G., Anson, D., Valentin, F., Mandui, H., Stirling, C., et al. (2010). Migration and mobility at the Late Lapita site of Reber-Rakival (SAC), Watom Island using isotope and trace element analyses: A new insight into Lapita interaction in the Bismarck Archipelago. Journal of Archaeological Science. 37: 605-613.

Shaw, B., Summerhayes, G. R., Buckley, H. & Baker, J. (2009). The use of strontium isotopes as an indicator of migration in Lapita populations in the Bismarck Archipelago. Journal of Archaeological Science. 36: 1079-1091.

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