Dr Christian Reepmeyer


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Personal profile


I have completed my PhD in 2010 concentrating on the analysis of the distribution of obsidian from northern Vanuatu sources and quarry sites. Before my PhD candidacy at the ANU, I was involved in several expeditions to Africa focussing on the mid to late Holocene human record in Namibia, Sudan and Chad. I was also involved in preparing and conducting a major exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Neanderthal type specimen. In my position at the ANH, I will concentrate on the application of pXRF to different archaeological materials and will work on management plans for World Heritage sites in the Pacific. Additionally to my research, I will teach courses in World Heritage sites and science in the SE Asian and Pacific region.

Career highlights

Applying ICPMS to the identification of obsidian sources in Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific, EIPR scholar 2006-2010

Research interests

My main field of expertise is the study of prehistoric movement, mobility and exchange from the empirical analysis of igneous rocks with geochemical techniques combined with exchange and migration theory to establish ancient interaction. My recent research focus has been in the application of scientific techniques to characterise ancient stone tools from Asia and the Pacific, which provide tangible evidence for prehistoric social and economic movements, often over thousands of kilometres of marine terrain. My PhD involved research on the origin, distribution and timing of obsidian source use in Vanuatu, including detailed elemental studies of archaeological materials using several analytical techniques (EDXA, SEM, XRF, LA-ICP-MS) and field investigations of remote quarry sites in the Banks Islands. I am experienced in the assessment of culture heritage sites in Africa, Europe and Australia, and have participated in expeditions to Namibia, Sudan and Chad. More recent activities in this field include several professional consultancies in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

Current student projects

Urrmarning (Red Lily Dreaming) – a case study for the application of non-destructive geochemical pXRF technique on rock art pigments

The project addresses two potential application of pXRF technique for archaeological research and conservation. First, the project is designed to develop practical strategies for conservation of rock art to assist indigenous rangers and traditional owners in monitoring disturbance to places of cultural significance. Secondly, scientific research focus of the study is the experimental application of non-destructive pXRF technique to analyse in situ rock art pigments with the aim to define possible sources of ochres utilised at sites. During two week fieldwork 640 analyses of 32 motifs at four rock art sites were conducted showing good potential for the discrimination of different ochre varieties. Problems and limitations of the in situ application of this method, however, were encountered during fieldwork, and will be discussed in addition to the results presented.


M.A. University of Cologne, PhD Australian National University

Researcher's projects

Climate change in the abandonment of islands: A high-resolution case study from the tropical Pacific

Tropical climate systems affect the subsistence, settlement and population conditions of more than one billion people, and climate change in the last millennium is hypothesised to have had catastrophic environmental and societal impacts in many parts of the Pacific Basin. This proposal examines the role of climate change in the prehistoric occupation and abandonment of islands in Palau through palaeoclimate, archaeological, palaeoecological, and traditional history, investigations. The data will add to knowledge of equatorial climate regimes in the Indo-Pacific, provide the first test of the 'AD 1300' climate event, and detail human responses to climate change over several centuries.

Urrmarning Cultural Heritage Conservation

In 2006, an Indigenous rock art site known as Urrmarning (Red Lily Dreaming) was severely damaged by an uncontrolled wildfire. Affected Traditional Aboriginal Owners from the Manilarrkar clan group requested assistance to investigate and implement a strategy to deal with the site damage and was awarded funds from the Northern Territory Heritage Grants scheme to conduct a study of the area. This study aims maximise research output from the study by engaging Masters of Archaeological Science students in the project to utilise portable scientific measuring equipment (in situ analysis of rock art pigments using pXRF) and satellite mapping technology to improve our understanding of the conservation processes at work at Urrmarning.

The Ancient Capitals of the Kingdom of Tonga (UNESCO World Heritage nomination)

The village of Mu'a, about 12 kilometres from the current capital, Nuku'alofa, is the site of the third capital of Ancient Tonga, having been relocated from the Heketa-Ha'amonga area around the 13th Century until the 19th Century. It is located in the eastern district of Tongatapu. Lapaha, which is situated at the north-eastern part of Mu'a, is said to have been the permanent home and centre of chiefly power of the Tu'i Tonga. It is also famous for being the geographic centre of the Tongan maritime chiefdom during the reign of Tu'i Tongas from the 13th to the 19th Centuries. There are 22 (estimated) ancient royal tombs (or langis) that can be found in this area (sketch map attached of positioning of tombs), spread over an estimated 400 x 500 square metres of land where Tu'i Tongas were buried. These tombs and the rituals that surround the burial of the descendents of the Tu'i Tongas in the same tombs are still a living part of the Tongan culture to this present day.

Mobility and Migration in the Chiefdoms of Fiji-West Polynesia

The project will investigate the powerful Tongan chiefdom of the second millennium AD on Tonga and neighbouring islands in the Central Pacific. It will examine not only Tonga's unique maritime connections with the islands of Rotuma, 'Uvea and Samoa, using cutting-edge analytical techniques, but also the importance of migration in the chiefly societies of Fiji-West Polynesia. In short, the project seeks answers about the development of social complexity through study of prehistoric mobility and migration in the stratified Tongan chiefdom in Tonga and abroad.

Selecting cultural sites for the UNESCO World Heritage List: Recent work in the Rock Islands/Southern Lagoon area, Republic of Palau

This project reports on the selection process of archaeological sites and criteria for the inscription of the Rock Islands/Southern Lagoon in the Republic of Palau (Western Micronesia) as a mixed cultural/natural property on the UNESCO World Heritage list. An archaeological team from the Australian National University assisted the Bureau of Arts and Culture of Koror State to assess prehistoric stonework villages, rock art and burial sites in the Rock Islands in 2010. Palaeoenvironmental and archaeological data, including continuing oral traditions resulted in the decision to nominate the property under cultural criteria III and V as outlined in the World Heritage operational guidelines. The Rock Islands provide an opportunity to combine historical knowledge in oral traditions with scientific data about human-environment interactions in the past. Oral histories recount the migration of people from the Rock Islands to other parts of the archipelago and the final abandonment of the Rock Islands in the 17th century.

Expertise Areas

  • Archaeological Science
  • Archaeology of New Guinea and Pacific Islands (excl. New Zealand)


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