Uncovering the ancient history of the gateway to the Pacific

  • August 13, 2019
Uncovering the ancient history of the gateway to the Pacific

Dylan Gaffney has designed a website to showcase his archaeological research on the Raja Ampat Islands of West Papua.

This region represents the crucial link in understanding how ancient Homo sapiens and other hominin species initially migrated through Island Southeast Asia into the Pacific, and which adaptive behaviours allowed the world's first seafaring populations to thrive on small rainforested islands.

Dylan Gaffney

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has designed a website that showcases an archaeological project in the Raja Ampat Islands of West Papua which has unearthed new material revealing how its ancient human inhabitants lived.

Dylan Gaffney [2017], who is doing a PhD in Archaeology, has written and designed the website on the Raja Ampat Archaeological Project which documents some of the first ever work into the human history of the region in an effort to communicate the project's research findings to the wider public both internationally and in local Raja Ampat communities.

The Raja Ampat Islands lie at the gateway to the Pacific and were key stepping stones between the societies of Asia and Oceania. The area is rich in wildlife, both on land and sea, and in natural beauty.

Between 2018 and 2019 Dylan and Indonesian colleagues have been exploring Waigeo and Gam, the largest islands in the group, and have been able to locate over 150 previously unknown archaeological sites with the help of local guides, fishermen and hunters, including historical villages, burial caves and middens of shellfish which provide evidence of early village settlements. Artefacts uncovered from three major excavations at these sites date back to the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods, including stone tools and bone points.

The research is ongoing and the team are looking at questions such as how ancient people in the region adapted to life in the rainforest.

Dylan says: "This region represents the crucial link in understanding how ancient Homo sapiens and other hominin species initially migrated through Island Southeast Asia into the Pacific, and which adaptive behaviours allowed the world's first seafaring populations to thrive on small rainforested islands."

Dylan Gaffney

Dylan Gaffney

  • Scholar
  • New Zealand
  • 2017 PhD Archaeology
  • Magdalene College

I grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand, and completed a BA at the University of Otago in Classical Studies and Anthropology. During this time, I developed a passion for archaeology— the famous discoveries at Troy in the Hellespont, the ancient civilisation at Angkor in Southeast Asia, and the remarkable voyages of island navigators into the Pacific thousands of years ago. Following this passion, I undertook my first overseas fieldwork around Madang, northeast New Guinea in 2014. This formed the basis of my MA, which examined archaeological and modern potting traditions in the area. Since then, I have returned to New Guinea each year, working with communities to follow up research in Madang, and also venture into the highland interior to survey and excavate. Over the past year, I have been working as Research Coordinator at Southern Pacific Archaeological Research, a research unit at Otago. I have been fortunate to have the support from teachers and colleagues at Otago, which has pushed me to undertake critical, novel, and socially responsible research. My Cambridge research will move west, focussing on Indonesia, where I hope to examine some of the earliest dispersals of modern humans into the region. Understanding this deep history has massive implications for the social/life sciences generally. I am excited and humbled to be selected as a 2017 Gates Scholar, and hope to produce quality academic research, which is also accessible and appealing to local communities and the public.

Previous Education

University of Otago

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