Sean Ulm

Sean Ulm
James Cook University

BA(Hons), PhD

About

247
Publications
68,681
Reads
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3,923
Citations
Citations since 2017
72 Research Items
2391 Citations
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Introduction
Sean Ulm is Distinguished Professor of Archaeology at James Cook University and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Indigenous and Environmental Histories and Futures. Sean’s research focuses on persistent problems in the archaeology of northern Australia and the western Pacific where understanding the relationships between environmental change and cultural change using advanced studies of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sequences are central to constructions of the human past.
Additional affiliations
February 2013 - February 2017
James Cook University
Position
  • ARC Future Fellow
January 2013 - December 2015
James Cook University Brisbane
Position
  • Professor (Associate)
February 2011 - December 2012
James Cook University
Position
  • Lecturer
Education
February 1998 - November 2004
The University of Queensland
Field of study
  • Archaeology
February 1989 - November 1991
The University of Queensland
Field of study
  • Anthropology, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

Publications

Publications (247)
Article
Full-text available
The first peopling of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands joined at lower sea levels) by anatomically modern humans required multiple maritime crossings through Wallacea, with at least one approaching 100 km. Whether these crossings were accidental or intentional is unknown. Using coastal-viewshed analysis and ocean drift modelling com...
Article
Full-text available
The timing, context and nature of the first people to enter Sahul is still poorly understood owing to a fragmented archaeological record. However, quantifying the plausible demographic context of this founding population is essential to determine how and why the initial peopling of Sahul occurred. We developed a stochastic, age-structured model usi...
Article
Full-text available
This article reports Australia’s first confirmed ancient underwater archaeological sites from the continental shelf, located off the Murujuga coastline in north-western Australia. Details on two underwater sites are reported: Cape Bruguieres, comprising > 260 recorded lithic artefacts at depths down to −2.4 m below sea level, and Flying Foam Passag...
Article
Full-text available
Archaeological data and demographic modelling suggest that the peopling of Sahul required substantial populations, occurred rapidly within a few thousand years and encompassed environments ranging from hyper-arid deserts to temperate uplands and tropical rainforests. How this migration occurred and how humans responded to the physical environments...
Article
Full-text available
The peopling of Sahul (the combined continent of Australia and New Guinea) represents the earliest continental migration and settlement event of solely anatomically modern humans, but its patterns and ecological drivers remain largely conceptual in the current literature. We present an advanced stochastic-ecological model to test the relative suppo...
Article
Reconstructing the patterns of Homo sapiens expansion out of Africa and across the globe has been advanced using demographic and travel-cost models. However, modelled routes are ipso facto influenced by migration rates, and vice versa. We combined movement ‘superhighways’ with a demographic cellular automaton to predict one of the world’s earliest...
Article
Full-text available
The ethics of the scientific study of Ancestors has long been debated by archaeologists, bioanthropologists, and, more recently, ancient DNA (aDNA) researchers. This article responds to the article “Ethics of DNA research on human remains: five globally applicable guidelines” published in 2021 in Nature by a large group of aDNA researchers and coll...
Article
Full-text available
There are very few records of past terrestrial environmental change of any time period for the Australian tropical savannas. Here we document the hydrological development of Sanamere Lagoon, north Queensland, from a 1.72 m sediment sequence with a basal age of ca. 33 ka. We measure a variety of proxies reflecting environmental change within and aro...
Article
There are few archaeological sites that contain records for Pleistocene coastal occupation in Australia, as is the case globally. Two major viewpoints seek to explain why so few sites exist. The first is that the Pleistocene coast was a relatively marginal environment where fluctuating sea levels actively inhibited coastal resource productivity unt...
Article
Full-text available
OCTOPUS v.2 is an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) compliant web-enabled database that allows users to visualise, query, and download cosmogenic radionuclide, luminescence, and radiocarbon ages and denudation rates associated with erosional landscapes, Quaternary depositional landforms, and archaeological records, along with ancillary geospatial (v...
Preprint
Full-text available
Pleistocene archaeology in Australia has focussed on the survival and behaviour of Indigenous populations across Sahul during the Last Glacial Maximum (28.6 ± 2.8 ka to 17.7 ± 2.2 ka). A long-standing conceptual model proposes people occupied ecological refugia while abandoning drier regions during extreme climatic conditions, with inferred pattern...
Chapter
The use of radiocarbon data as a proxy for past human demography has become common in many parts of the world with increasingly sophisticated techniques developed in the last decade. Australian archaeologists have been at the forefront of this research. Using this technique, the authors show that at a continent scale Aboriginal population remained...
Preprint
Full-text available
Reconstructing the patterns of expansion out of Africa and across the globe by modern Homo sapiens have been advanced using demographic and travel-cost models. However, modelled routes are ipso facto influenced by migration rates, and vice versa. It is therefore timely to combine these two intertwined phenomena in reconstructing the migratory histo...
Chapter
Full-text available
[Extract] The molluscan assemblage reported here is from Tanamu 1 at Caution Bay, an archaeological site dating from c.5,000 cal BP to c. 100 cal BP. Two 1m × 1m squares (A and B) were excavated in 2.1 ± 0.5cm excavation units (XUs) to 2.82m depth, with all excavated materials retained in 2.1mm mesh sieves undergoing systematic analysis in dedicate...
Article
The selection and pre-treatment of reliable organic fractions for radiocarbon age determination is fundamental to the development of accurate chronologies. Sampling from tropical lakes is particularly challenging given the adverse preservation conditions and diagenesis in these environments. Our research is the first to examine and quantify the dif...
Preprint
OCTOPUS v.2 is an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) compliant web-enabled database that allows users to visualise, query, and download cosmogenic radionuclide, luminescence, and radiocarbon ages and denudation rates associated with erosional landscapes, Quaternary depositional landforms and archaeological records, along with ancillary geospatial (ve...
Article
Full-text available
Fire is inextricably linked to the vegetation that provides the fuel load. For palaeofire records to contribute meaningfully to the reconstruction of past landscape fire history, it is helpful to identify the vegetation that has been burnt, for example, grassy versus woody vegetation in tropical savannas. The morphological characteristics of charco...
Article
Full-text available
Regional-scale assessments have proven to be invaluable frameworks for research, public engagement and management of submerged archaeological landscapes. Regional-scale approaches have been implemented internationally through a variety of academic or strategic studies. Such studies represent a much-needed next step towards subregional and site-leve...
Article
The stable carbon (δ¹³C) and nitrogen (δ¹⁵N) isotope composition of human bone collagen is increasingly used to investigate past mobility and subsistence strategies. This study presents a compilation of 1298 carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of archaeological human bone collagen from the British Isles spanning much of the Holocene, along with a...
Article
Full-text available
Paleoecology has demonstrated potential to inform current and future land management by providing long-term baselines for fire regimes, over thousands of years covering past periods of lower/higher rainfall and temperatures. To extend this potential, more work is required for methodological innovation able to generate nuanced, relevant and clearly...
Article
Full-text available
The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming the global labour market, including the Australian archaeological profession. This, the fourth in a series of comprehensive surveys of Australian professional archaeologists undertaken in early 2020, provides longitudinal data on trends in the state of the archaeological profession in Australia. Findings includ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Since the first peopling of Australia and New Guinea (the continent of Sahul) during times of lower sea level more than 60,000 years ago, approximately 2 million km2 of land, roughly one-third of the present continental land mass, has been drowned by sea-level rise. Landscapes encountered and settled by thousands of generations of people throughout...
Article
Recent studies conducted in Murujuga Sea Country have confirmed that Indigenous Australian archaeology does not end at the modern shore. Since the earliest peopling of the Australian continent, sea levels have fluctuated significantly, dropping as much as 130 m below modern mean sea-level during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). During this period, t...
Article
Full-text available
The original publication described FosSahul 2.0, the updated version of the FosSahul database comprising collated and quality-rated megafauna fossil ages of the Late Quaternary from Sahul, as well as R code to run the algorithm that rated the quality of each age based on criteria established by Rodríguez-Rey et al. 1. Since the paper was published...
Chapter
Full-text available
Coasts, islands, and marine resources played a central role in the dispersal of people into and across Sahul (the combined landmass of New Guinea and Australia). This vast area spans tropical and temperate latitudes, with changes in the abundance and distribution of coastal resources having greatly influenced how people used these landscapes. Littl...
Article
Full-text available
Significance The carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of human tissues can be used to infer dietary information. We transformed isotope compositions of 13,666 modern and ancient analyses to make them comparable on a common scale. This reveals that the isotope dietary breadth of modern humans is highly compressed when compared to populations pred...
Article
Full-text available
Shell middens, sometimes in the form of mounds of great size, are a ubiquitous indicator of coastal settlement and exploitation of marine resources across the world. However, shell middens are relatively rare before the mid-Holocene because most palaeoshorelines before that time are now submerged by sea-level rise since the Last Glacial Maximum (LG...
Article
Fire has a long history in Australia and is a key driver of vegetation dynamics in the tropical savanna ecosystems that cover one quarter of the country. Fire reconstructions are required to understand ecosystem dynamics over the long term but these data are lacking for the extensive savannas of northern Australia. This paper presents a multiproxy...
Article
Full-text available
Archaeological records documenting the timing and use of northern Great Barrier Reef offshore islands by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout the Holocene are limited when compared to the central and southern extents of the region. Excavations on Lizard Island, located 33 km from Cape Flattery on the mainland, provide high resol...
Article
Caution Bay, on the South Coast of Papua New Guinea, offers a unique opportunity to assess the possible impacts of predation by pre-Lapita, Lapita, and post-Lapita peoples on local mollusc resources from at least 5000 years ago. Using biometric analysis of the bivalve Anadara antiquata and gastropod Conomurex luhuanus from the site of Tanamu 1, we...
Poster
Chronological modelling of village sites across the Torres Strait utilises legacy archaeological data and new 14 C dates to investigate temporal events associated with major settlement expansion over the last two millennia. This research is the first attempt to chronologically model all archaeologically dated Torres Strait village sites and aims to...
Article
Over the last 20,000 years, one third of the continental land mass of Australia, or 2.12 million km 2 , has been drowned by postglacial sea-level rise. Much of this drowned territory is thought to have been occupied by humans. Where archaeological remains have survived inundation, they can be investigated by underwater and airborne remote sensing,...
Article
Full-text available
Shell middens, or shell-matrix deposits, occur in large numbers across the coastlines of the world from the mid-Holocene (c. 6000-5000 cal. BC) onwards, often forming substantial mounds. However, they become smaller, rarer or absent as one goes back into earlier periods, suggesting a world-wide process of economic intensification. Since sea level w...
Article
Understanding the marine radiocarbon reservoir effect (i.e., marine radiocarbon reservoir age (R) and/or correction (DR)) is important for the construction of robust radiocarbon chronologies for marine archives for various research areas including archaeology, palaeoecology, paleoceanography, Quaternary research and climate change studies. In this...
Article
Full-text available
During the past 20,000 years approximately one-quarter of the continental landmass of Australia was inundated by postglacial sea-level rise, submerging archaeological evidence for use of these landscapes. Underwater archaeological sites can offer substantial insights into past lifeways and adaptations to rapidly changing environments, however the v...
Preprint
Full-text available
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses are widely used to infer diet and mobility in ancient and modern human populations, potentially providing a means to situate humans in global food webs. We collated 13,533 globally distributed analyses of ancient and modern human collagen and keratin samples. We converted all data to a common ‘Modern Diet...
Article
This study presents three records of environmental change during the late-Holocene from wetlands across Bentinck Island in the South Wellesley Islands, northern Australia. Radiometric dating provided ages for sediment cores with the longest chronology spanning the last 1250 cal. yr BP. Palynological results show the diverse mangrove community trans...
Article
Full-text available
The southern lowlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are biogeographically distinct. Vast tracts of savanna vegetation occur there and yet most palaeoecological studies have focused on highlands and/or forest environments. Greater focus on long-term lowland environments provides a rare opportunity to understand and promote the significance of local and...
Article
Full-text available
The Investigator Tree, so named after Matthew Flinders’ ship HMS Investigator, is an inscribed tree currently on display in the Queensland Museum. Before being accessioned into the Queensland Museum’s collection in 1889, the Investigator Tree grew on the western shore of Sweers Island in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria. The tree’s “Investigator” i...
Article
Full-text available
A synthetic history of human land use Humans began to leave lasting impacts on Earth's surface starting 10,000 to 8000 years ago. Through a synthetic collaboration with archaeologists around the globe, Stephens et al. compiled a comprehensive picture of the trajectory of human land use worldwide during the Holocene (see the Perspective by Roberts)....
Chapter
Full-text available
The Caution Bay archaeological project on the south coast of mainland Papua New Guinea has excavated 122 sites over a 9 km2 area. Lapita ceramics appear at a number of sites at c. 2900 cal. BP. Here we present the results of excavations at Moiapu 3, a site that helps define the end of the dentate-stamped Lapita phase of this region. It is suggested...
Article
Full-text available
The mechanisms leading to megafauna ( >44 kg) extinctions in Late Pleistocene (126,000—12,000 years ago) Australia are highly contested because standard chronological analyses rely on scarce data of varying quality and ignore spatial complexity. Relevant archaeological and palaeontological records are most often also biased by differential preserva...
Article
Full-text available
The 2016 version of the FosSahul database compiled non-human vertebrate megafauna fossil ages from Sahul published up to 2013 in a standardised format. Its purpose was to create a publicly available, centralized, and comprehensive database for palaeoecological investigations of the continent. Such databases require regular updates and improvements...
Article
Marine fisheries have been a critical part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's connection to land and sea country in Queensland, Australia for millennia. However, no archaeological studies have examined regional variability in the role of fish within subsistence regimes or the distribution of targeted fish species throughout the Holoc...
Article
Offshore island colonisation and use around the northern Australian coastline in the mid-to-late Holocene is associated with expanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and intensifying land-use activities. However, few explicit tests of the long-term effects of shellfish forager decision-making and associated impacts on intertidal...
Presentation
Fire has a long history of interaction with Australian ecosystems but poses a growing risk as future climate change is predicted to lengthen fire seasons and increase extreme fire weather. Tropical savannas cover almost one quarter (1.9 million km2) of the Australian land mass, and fire occurs here almost annually. A greater understanding of past f...
Article
Full-text available
Reconstructing past sea levels can help constrain uncertainties surrounding the rate of change, magnitude, and impacts of the projected increase through the 21 st century. Of significance is the mid-Holocene relative sea-level highstand in tectonically stable and remote (far-field) locations from major ice sheets. The east coast of Australia provid...
Article
Full-text available
This study investigates the palynological remains (both fossil pollen and charcoal) recovered from the Thundiy shell midden deposit, Bentinck Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia, to provide a vegetation and fire record for this site, which sheds light on human occupation of the southern Wellesley Archipelago over the late Holocene. Resu...
Article
Full-text available
Stone arrangements are frequently encountered on the Australian mainland and islands. They have high significance values to Indigenous Australians and are usually associated with the material expression and emplacement of socio-religious beliefs and associated ceremonial/ritual activities. Despite their ubiquity, stone arrangements are an understud...
Article
Full-text available
Underwater archaeology and submerged landscapes in Western Australia—ERRATUM - Volume 92 Issue 364 - Jonathan Benjamin, Michael O'Leary, Ingrid Ward, Jorg Hacker, Sean Ulm, Peter Veth, Mads Holst, Jo McDonald, Peter J. Ross, Geoff Bailey
Article
Full-text available
This paper uses statistical analyses to examine the hypothesis that the creators of the Gummingurru Stone Arrangement Site Complex, southeast Queensland, deliberately selected rocks, based on size and shape, for the production of motifs at the site. As Gummingurru is an Aboriginal site, the literature that frames the research concerns Aboriginal cu...
Article
Stone-walled intertidal fishtraps surround the Australian coastline and are among the largest structures built by Indigenous Australians. Globally, fishtraps are considered important elements in food production, domestica-tion, territoriality and ceremonial landscapes, yet the level of detail in documentation is highly varied and scholarly fishtrap...
Article
A revised Holocene sea-level history for the southern Gulf of Carpentaria is presented based on new data from the South Wellesley Archipelago and age recalibration of previous research. Results confirm that rising sea levels during the most recent post-glacial marine transgression breached the Arafura Sill ca. 11,700 cal. yr BP. Sea levels continue...
Article
Full-text available
This research aims to explore the submerged landscapes of the Pilbara of western Australia, using predictive archaeological modelling, airborne LiDAR, marine acoustics, coring and diver survey. It includes excavation and geophysical investigation of a submerged shell midden in Denmark to establish guidelines for the underwater discovery of such sit...
Preprint
Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is used in this study to delineate the extent and internal structure of a large late Holocene buried shell matrix site at Thundiy, Bentinck Island, northern Australia. Shell matrix sites comprise a key component of the coastal archaeological record. The extensive nature of many shell matrix sites presents challenges f...
Article
Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) dispersed rapidly through island southeast Asia (Sunda and Wallacea) and into Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands), before 50,000 years ago. Multiple routes have been proposed for this dispersal and all involve at least one multi-day maritime voyage approaching 100 km. Here we use new regional-scale ba...
Article
Native fish populations have been strongly impacted by fishing, habitat alteration and the introduction of invasive species. Understanding the dynamics of native fish populations prior to commercial fishing can be problematic, but provides critical baseline data for fish conservation, rehabilitation and management. We combined fish size, age and gr...
Article
Sampling issues represent a persistent problem in shell matrix research, particularly for large shell deposits. When small samples are taken from large buried deposits it is almost impossible, under current research practices, to understand how representative that sample is of the overall deposit. This case study tests a novel method for creating a...
Article
Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is used in this study to delineate the extent and internal structure of a large late Holocene buried shell matrix site at Thundiy, Bentinck Island, northern Australia. Shell matrix sites comprise a key component of the coastal archaeological record. The extensive nature of many shell matrix sites presents challenges f...
Presentation
Wind- and water-borne charcoal particles deposited in sediments are a critical source of information on past fire occurrence. These can be found preserved in a wide range of environmental and cultural contexts. Micro-charcoal counts are commonly included as part of pollen analysis; macro-charcoal particles are less frequently investigated, and char...
Article
Full-text available
Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dates (n=20) determined on fish otoliths from mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus) and black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) are reported from five sites at Long Point, Coorong, South Australia. The dates range from 2938–2529 to 326–1 cal. BP, extending the known period of occupation of Long Point. Previou...