Dr Dylan Gaffney

Research Profile

Dylan’s research examines how humans adapted to, and transformed, a variety of tropical environments in the deep past.

Island rainforest colonisation in the Raja Ampat Islands of West Papua


Dylan's current project funded by National Geographic is exploring how the earliest populations to enter the Pacific region over 50,000 years ago adapted to small rainforested islands on the equator. The fieldwork is taking place in the Raja Ampat Islands, at the boundary of Indonesia and New Guinea. Archaeological survey and excavation is revealing insights into long-term population histories of the Asia-Pacific region, including the dynamics of trade and exchange, subsistence behaviours, technological change, and migration. As part of this project, he is working with social anthropologists, ecologists, and archaeological scientists to examine present-day subsistence and conservation practices and to compare this with the archaeological record. This comparison is being used to describe long term processes of behavioural and ecological change in the islands and to provide insight into future directions for conservation practices.


For further information please see our website: raja-ampat-arch.com


Behavioural transformation in the New Guinea Highlands


Another thread of Dylan's research examines human dispersals into montane rainforests, which occurred for the first time in the New Guinea Highlands. His research has provided evidence for i) regional variation in the timing of the agricultural revolution, ii) increasing specialisation in hunting small, hard-to-catch animals like fruit bats, marsupials, and rodents, and iii) the development of exchange networks between the mountains and the coast, including the earliest evidence for pottery making on mainland New Guinea. 

Systems of technology and exchange around coastal New Guinea


A third aspect of Dylan's work focuses on craft production and subsistence trading around the coast of New Guinea. The research addresses processes of migration and behavioural diversification as maritime trading communities moved into resource-poor, ecologically marginal zones on the coastal fringe of New Guinea. His work has involved ethnographic, museum-based, and archaeological fieldwork with the aim of understanding how these complex production and exchange networks emerged. 



Convenor for "Honour Moderations Paper 3 – Human Evolution"


Tutorial Fellow and co-Director of Studies at Hertford College

Stipendiary Lecturer at St Hugh’s College



Convenor for MSc Archaeology "Early Human Dispersals in Asia and the Pacific”


Dylan welcomes enquires about Master's and Doctoral supervision on a wide range of topics relating to the archaeology of the Pacific and Southeast Asia, as well as global Pleistocene archaeology. These projects might involve exploratory archaeological survey and excavation; the development and application of novel zooarchaeological methods to the study of past human–animal interactions; multiproxy palaeoenvironmental reconstructions of vegetational and faunal change; technological and geochemical examinations of lithic or ceramic artefacts to examine mobility and exchange patterns; ethnographic studies of present-day material culture or subsistence practices and comparison with archaeological datasets; and cross comparative studies on colonisation and settlement processes.

Doctoral Supervision

I am happy to supervise on the archaeology of the Pacific and Southeast Asia, global Pleistocene archaeology, exploratory archaeological survey and excavation, zooarchaeological analyses of past human–animal interactions, multiproxy palaeoenvironmental reconstructions of vegetational and faunal change, technological and geochemical examinations of lithic or ceramic artefacts to examine mobility and exchange patterns, ethnoarchaeological research on technology and subsistence.

Key words: excavations, human evolution, humans and other animals, biocultural heritage, migration, trade, longue duree, technologies of making, island archaeology, human ecology, lithics, zooarchaeology, pottery, earlier prehistory, later prehistory, contemporary, SE Asia, Oceania