Mathieu Leclerc

Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

Mathieu is Lecturer in Archaeology at the Australian National University (School of Archaeology & Anthropology). His research combines investigating the socio-technological organisation of artefact production and archaeological science.
Mathieu uses his expertise in petrographic microscopy and biomolecular archaeology to understand manufacturing processes and usage patterns for pottery and other artefacts. He also has an interest for creative research outputs and is actively engaged in outreach activities outside academia.



Researcher's projects

The biomolecular archaeology of pottery in Vanuatu and New Caledonia (2940-2710 cal BP)
In the South Pacific, pottery is a key element of the Lapita Cultural Complex, a set of artefacts and practices that finds its origin about 3000 years ago in the Bismarck Archipelago in Papua New Guinea. Lapita pottery is associated with the first human settlers in today’s Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Striking similarities in vessel form and highly organised intricate decorative motifs on Lapita pottery across the roughly 4000km-wide Lapita distribution reveal a shared iconography. The current consensus is that decorated Lapita pots held great social significance and materialised a shared ideology or view-of-the-world. This hypothesis however relies on indirect contextual evidence, and data directly associated with vessel use are still to be integrated into this model.

The objective of the project is to undertake organic residue analysis of Lapita and more recent pottery from archaeological sites in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. This project aims to determine what food items were placed in pottery in order to gain insights on the ways these vessels were used. The rationale for conducting such a study is that determining what was placed in these vessels has great potential to further our understanding as to why they were used. Ongoing analyses conducted on archaeological ceramics and modern samples of fats and oils are being undertaken in collaboration with Dr Karine Taché (CUNY Queens College), AsPr Stuart Bedford (ANU), Prof Jochen Brocks and Prof Oliver Craig (The University of York).

Digital database of archaeological pottery
Analysing thin sections remotely is not satisfactory since the assessment of key attributes necessary for the accurate identification or measurement of features requires constant interaction between the analyst and the microscope. Operations such as rotating the sample and/or toggling between linear polarisation and cross-polarisation are essential and cannot reproduced with a practical number of photos. Using fixed images for educational or outreach purposes has limited relevance because most images do not show the range of diagnostic characteristics.

Thanks to some of the most recent technological developments and image processing advances at Zeiss, a leading manufacturer of optical systems, newly developed models of slide scanners now have the capacity to create animated and interactive outputs that simulate operating a traditional petrographic microscope.

My project consists of scanning representative samples for every pottery fabric type (recipe) identified across the region, in order to produce a digital reference collection accessible via an open-access digital portal. The combination of animated visual cues with previously unpublisehd descriptions of pottery fabrics will be a fantastic tool for research, education and outreach as academics, students and indigenous communities will gain direct access to digestible data.

In collaboration with the University of Adelaïde and the Bishop Museum, Hawai’i.

Navigating the Past: Board game on the Pacific
The general aim of this project is to democratise knowledge about the human settlement of the Pacific and about some key cultural expressions in the region by integrating indigenous perspectives and archaeological/anthropological academic knowledge into a serious board game. Our objectives are twofold: a) to provide high quality resources that are aligned to the curriculum and selected to accelerate outcomes and levels of engagement for students; and b) to produce an exciting NTRO perfectly suited for the wider dissemination of information about Pacific societies and their history in the public. Working with indigenous collaborators is at the core of the project; we are collaborating with contributors in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Tonga. We are also working on expanding our network.

Available student projects

1. This project of pottery analysis could represent a Masters project. The pottery, collected by Chris Ballard during his fieldwork in 1987, is from the Eastern Highlands of PNG – pottery produced by Agarabi-speakers, who had previously been Austronesian-speakers, but migrated into the Highlands and continued to produce pottery (the only producers anywhere in the Highlands). Contextual information for this project is plentiful: several hundred decorated sherds from surface collections, detailed records of ethnographic production, records of interviews with producers about the pottery and oral histories of migration, and all of the relevant literature. Agarabi ware has never been described formally, and it contrasts strongly with the only other ware traded into the region, from the AN-speaking Adzera. It would make a really neat, compact thesis and / or collaborative project.

2. I am currently working on a more efficient protocol for sample preparation and analysis of pottery samples using LAICPMS, in collaboration with Gabriel Enge and Ulrike Troitzsch, RSES. I will need to prepare samples in the next few months from pottery collection from from Vanuatu (Stuart Bedford and James Flexner’s project), Milne Bay (Ben Shaw’s project) and Quebec (Karine Taché’s project). I also need to re-prepare the samples from the reference collection set up during my PhD thesis, which will: a) ensure comparable datasets for future analysis; b) open the door for a technical publication comparing the results obtained from the powder pellets with those from fused disks: verify if firing at 1080C affects certain elements, verify the calibration methods, test the values for reference materials, etc. 

Students interested to produce fused disks from pottery samples using a furnace (> 1080 C) and Lithium Tetraborate flux and participate to their analysis by LAICPMS are more than welcome to contact me. This project provides a learning opportunity of laboratoy work and chemical analysis of archaeological material.

3. Analysis of a pottery assemblage from a site in Indonesia (Jareng Bori) excavated by a team led by Stuart Hawkins: labelling, counts (rim vs body sherds), types of decoration, various measurement (thickness, weight), etc. The results from the pottery analysis will be included in a chapter about the site along other aspects (obsidian, animal bones,…). Stuart’s plan is to submit the manuscript for the Australian Museum Ken Aplin memorial Volume, which is due 15 January 2020.

4. Projects involving organic residue analysis of pottery could also be undertaken in collaboration with Jochen Brocks, RSES, and Karine Taché, CUNY Queens College. 

5. Use the micro-CT (3d scanner) from the Centre of Advanced Microscopy to investigate the technological features of pottery sherds

Current student projects

I am currently an Associate Supervisor for the following PhD students:

  • Yi Jia Poh (CAP)

Crafting Funan: Pottery Production and Exchange from Pre Oc Eo to Oc Eo Periods (500 BCE - 700 CE)

500 BCE through 500 CE has been identified as a crucial time in the history of Southeast Asia. While some see it as an important period to further clarify long-lasting discussions of how the region transited from the Neolithic to Indic states such as Funan, others are interested in increasing variations and mixing of people groups, particularly pertinent are waves of rice cultivation communities migration from further north since the Neolithic and the Malayo-Chamic migration (500 BCE) to Central Coastal Vietnam. Oc Eo, the archaeological site said to be the thriving port city of Funan polity (~1 CE – ~700 CE) in Mekong Delta, saw its beginnings around 200 BCE, but appears rather suddenly in the archaeological record with rice cultivation, an axial layout and seemingly varied pottery traditions. Its relationship with neighbouring sites in East Nam Bo of Southern Vietnam, Central Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, particularly during the ‘Pre Oc Eo’ period (200 BCE – ~1 CE) needs to be further investigated to better understand Oc Eo’s rise as a port, people group migration patterns and Oc Eo’s early Indic influences. On the other hand, economic systems of production and exchange that constitute ‘Funan polity’ is still not well understood. This project proposes a diachronic treatment of the Oc Eo region and its surroundings spanning the Pre Oc Eo, Early Oc Eo (~1 CE – 300 CE) and Developed Oc Eo (300 CE – 700 CE) periods. Through pottery analysis, including assemblages comparison, typological sampling, compositional analysis and petrography, I aim to clarify technological traditions, used as proxies for people groups, that constituted Mekong Delta’s transition to urban settlement, as well as explicate economic patterns of production and exchange from Early Oc Eo through Developed Oc Eo to understand a facet of Funan’s urban economic exchange system.

  • Tracey Pilgrim (CASS)

Pottery from the Metal Age site at Catanauan, Phillipines

Until very recently, the pottery from archaeological sites in the Philippines has lacked rigorous assessment, remaining at the descriptive level and with a penchant for typological presentation. If pottery sherds are to be utilised to their full potential as artefacts, analyses must move beyond the descriptive to the analytical in order to unlock further data about the technologies and resources employed by potters during production. This study will extend the traditional mode of investigation by applying both macroscopic and archaeometric methods of analysis to a selection of pottery sherds from the Metal Age (ca. 2,200BP – 1,000BP) jar-burial site at Catanauan, Bondoc Peninsula, Philippines. In doing so, this study will apply a newly developed, integrated method of analysis, combining QEMScan and MicroCT data to investigate the microstructure and composition of the pottery. 

  • Phillip Beaumont (CAP)

Documenting the prehistory of the Greater Sunda Islands, Indonesia 


I received a BA and an M. Sc. in Anthropology from Université de Montréal and a D.phil in Archaeology at the Australian National University. My PhD thesis examined the technological and compositional characteristics of Lapita and post-Lapita pottery from Vanuatu through LAICPMS analysis. I participated in archaeological excavations on a wide range of sites in Canada, United States, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia.

Expertise Areas

  • Soil Chemistry (excl. Carbon Sequestration Science)
  • Archaeological Science
  • Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas
  • Archaeology of New Guinea and Pacific Islands (excl. New Zealand)


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