Staff profile

Dr Andy I.R. Herries Archaeological Science, Geoarchaeology, Hominin Evolution and the Palaeolithic

Australian Research Fellow, Head of Archaeomagnetism Laboratory

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
School of Humanities

Room 147, Martin Building, Melbourne (Bundoora)

Membership of professional associations

Paleoanthropology Society, Asian-Australasian Associaiton of Palaeoanthropologists, Australian Archaeological Association, INQUA, South African Archaeological Society

Area of study


Brief profile

I undertook my degrees at the University of Liverpool in the UK and began working in South Africa in 1997 and have been working there every year since. I am an active caver (potholer) and have generally specialised in cave archaeology and palaeontology, however, I have recently expanded to open landscape research (volcanic, fluvial, dunes) in both southern Africa and Kenya.

My early research concentrated on assessing the stratigraphic associations and age of the South African early hominin fossils (Australopithecus, Paranthropus and early Homo) and stone tool industries (Oldowan/Acheulian) using palaeomagnetism. My research provided the first reliable age assessment of the Makapansgat and Sterkfontein hominins, including the Mrs Ples Australopithecus africanus cranium. More recently I provided an age for the new species, Australopithecus sediba, recently published on the cover of Science (Dirks et al., 2010; Pickering et al., 2011).

In 2003 I began work at Pinnacle Point in South Africa, an area that has now provided a rich series of early Middle Stone age bearing cave sites. This work provided the earliest evidence for the use of ochre, the exploitation of marine resources and the heat treatment of stone tools and was published in both Nature and Science. (Marean et al., 2007; Brown et al., 2009; 2010 JHE special issue). I have expanded my research in this area and undertake a range of projects looking at the origins of modern humans in Africa , Asia and Australia.

One of my main interests has been the origins of fire use and pyrotechnology and its identification using archaeomagnetism and experimental archaeology. Archaeomagnetism is the use of magnetic methods (palaeo-mineral-environmental-rock magnetism) on archaeological sites and artefacts. It can be used to date archaeological sites from Holocene to Pliocene, reconstruct palaeoenvironments and palaeoclimate, source sediments and artefacts and identify fire use and understand spatial patterning in archaeological sites. (see Herries, 2009; Brown et al., 2009; Herries and Fisher, 2010). Recently I have expanded this work to Australia.

I run the archaeomagnetism laboratory here at La Trobe University, one of the only magnetics laboratories devoted to archaeological research in the world and the only one in Australia. The laboratory is always open to researchers wishing to collaborate on new research topics.

Research interests

Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas

- Archaeological Science and Geoarchaeology

- Geochronology of early Hominin Evolution

- Heat treatment of stone tools and pyrotechnology

- Modern Human Origins in South Africa and China

- Origins of fire use

- Origins of the Acheulian and its transition to the Middle Stone Age

- Prehistoric Bulgaria


I currently work on projects in Australia with Australian Cultural Heritage Management (South Australia) and Cutting Edge Archaeology (Queensland)

Recent publications

Nature/Science & PNAS

  • Pickering, R., Dirks, P., Jinnah, Z., de Ruiter, D.J, Churchill, S.E., Herries, A.I.R., Woodhead, J., Hellstrom, J., Berger, L.R. 2011. Australopithecus sediba at 1.977 Ma and implications for the origins of the genus Homo. Science. 333; 1421-1423.
  • Dirks, P.H.D.M., Kibii, J.N., Kuhn, B.F., Steininger, C., Churchill, S.E., Kramers, J.D., Pickering, R., Farber, D.L., Mériaux, S-A., Herries, A.I.R., King, G.C.P., Berger, L.R. 2010. Geological setting and age of Australopithecus sediba from southern Africa. Science.328, 205-208.
  • Brown, K.S., Marean, C.W., Herries, A.I.R., Jacobs, Z., Tribolo, C., Braun, D., Roberts, D.L., Meyer, M.C., Bernatchez, J., 2009. Fire as an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans. Science. 325, 859-862
  • Marean, C.W., Bar-Matthews, M, Bernatchez, J., Fisher, E., Goldberg, P., Herries, A.I.R., Jacobs, Z., Jerardino, A., Karkanas, P.., Minichillo, T., Nilssen, P.J., Thompson, E., Watts, I., Williams, H.W., 2007. Early Human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene. Nature. 449, 905-908.
  • Braun, D.R., Harris, J.W.K., Levin, N.E., McCoy, J.T., Herries, A.I.R., Bamford, M., Bishop, L., Richmond, B.R., Kibunjia, M., 2010. Early hominin diet included diverse terrestrial and aquatic animals 1.95 Ma ago in East Turkana, Kenya.  PNAS. 107, 10002-10007.

Journal Articles

  • Taçon, P.S.C., Aubert, M., Gang, L., Decong, Y., Hong, Y., May, S.K., Fallon, S., Xueping, J., Curnoe, D., Herries, A.I.R. in press. First uranium-series minimum and maximum age estimates for rock art in China. J. Archaeological Science..
  • Herries, A.I.R. 2011. A chronological perspective on the Acheulian and its transition to the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa: the question of the Fauresmith. International Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 961401, 25 pages (in special volume; Key Evolutionary Transformations in Homo sapiens). doi:10.4061/2011/961401.
  • Roberts, D. Matthews, T., Herries, A.I.R, Boulter, C., Scott, L., Dondo, C., Ntembi, P., Browning, C., Smith, R., Haarhoff, P. 2011. Regional and Global Palaeoenvironmental and Sea Level Context of the Late Cenozoic Langebaanweg (LBW) Palaeontological Site: West Coast of South Africa. Earth Science Reviews. 106, 191-214.
  • Herries, A.I.R., Shaw, J. 2011. Palaeomagnetic analysis of the Sterkfontein palaeocave deposits; age implications for the hominin fossils and stone tool industries. J. Human Evolution. 60, 523-539.
  • Matthews, T., Rector, A., Jacobs, Z., Herries, A.I.R., Marean., C. 2011. Environmental implications of micromammals accumulated close to the MIS 6 to MIS 5 transition at Pinnacle Point Cave 9, southern Cape coast, South Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.302, 213-229.
  • Herries, A.I.R.., Hopley, P., Adams, J., Curnoe, D., Maslin, M. 2010. Geochronology and palaeoenvironments of the South African early hominin bearing sites: a reply to ‘Wrangham et al., 2009: Shallow-Water Habitats as Sources of Fallback Foods for Hominins’ Am. J. Phys. Anthro. 143, 640–646.
  • Herries, A.I.R, Fisher, E., 2010. Multi-dimensional modelling of magnetic mineralogy as a proxy for fire use and spatial patterning: evidence from the Middle Stone Age sea cave site of Pinnacle Point 13B (Western Cape, South Africa). J. Human Evolution. 59, 306-320.
  • Adams, J.W., Herries, A.I.R, Hemingway, J., Kegly, A., Kgazi, L.., Hopley, P., Reede, H., Potze, S., Thackeray, F., 2010. Initial fossil discoveries from Hoogland, a new Pliocene primate-bearing karstic system in Gauteng Province, South Africa, South Africa. J. Human Evolution. 59, 685-691.
  • Marean, C.W., Bar-Matthews, M., Fisher, E., Goldberg, P. Herries, A. Karkanas, P., Nilssen, P., Thompson E., 2010. The stratigraphy of the Middle Stone Age sediments at Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (Mossel Bay, Western Cape Province, South Africa). J. Human Evolution. 59, 234-255.
  • Bar-Matthews, M., Marean, C.W., Jacobs, Z., Karkanas, P., Fisher, E., Herries, A.I.R., Brown, K., Williams, H.M., Bernatchez, J., Ayalon, A., Nilssen, P. 2010. A high resolution and continuous isotopic speleothem record of paleoclimate and paleoenvironment from 90-53 ka from Pinnacle Point on the south coast of South Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews. 29, 2131-2145.
  • Taçon, P.S.C, Gang, L., Decong, Y., May, S.K., Hong, L., Aubert, M., Xueping, J., Curnoe, D., Herries, A.I.R.. 2010. Naturalism and style in Jinsha River rock art, China and the Magdalenian art of Europe: creative cognates or curious coincidence? Cambridge Archaeology Journal. 20, 1, 67-86.
  • Herries, A.I.R., Curnoe, D. Adams, J.W., 2009. A multi-disciplinary seriation of early Homo and Paranthropus bearing palaeocaves in southern Africa. Quaternary International.202, 14-28. (invited contribution)
  • Herries, A.I.R., Kovacheva, M., Kostadinova, M., 2008. Mineral magnetism and archaeomagnetic dating of a mediaeval oven from Zlatna Livada, Bulgaria. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth.A/B/C. 33, 496-510.
  • Herries, A.I.R., Kovacheva, M., Kostadinova, M., Shaw, J., 2007. Archaeo-directional and -intensity data from burnt structures at the Thracian site of Halka Bunar (Bulgaria): The effect of magnetic mineralogy, temperature and atmosphere of heating in antiquity, Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors. 162, 199-216.
  • Adams, J.W., Herries, A.I.R., Conroy, G.C., Kuykendall, K.L., 2007. Taphonomy of a South African cave: geological and hydrological influences on the GD 1 fossil assemblage at Gondolin, a Plio-Pleistocene paleocave system in the Northwest Province, South Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews. 26, 2526-2543.
  • Hopley, P.J., Marshall, J.D., Weedon, G.P., Latham, A.G., Herries, A.I.R., Kuykendall, K.L., 2007. Orbital forcing and the spread of C4 grasses in the late Neogene: stable isotope evidence from South African speleothems. J. Human Evolution. 53, 620-634.
  • Hopley, P.J., Weedon, G.P., Marshall, J.D., Herries, A.I.R, Latham, A.G., Kuykendall, K.L., 2007. High- and low-latitude orbital forcing of early hominin habitats. Earth Planetary Science Letters.256, 419-432.
  • Herries, A.I.R, Kovacheva, M., 2007. Using Archaeomagnetism to Answer Archaeological Questions about Burnt Structures at the Thracian Site of Halka Bunar, Bulgaria. Archaeologia Bulgarica 11. 2007/3, 25-46.
  • Herries, A.I.R., Adams, J.W., Kuykendall, K.L., Shaw, J., 2006. Speleology and magnetobiostratigraphic chronology of the GD 2 locality of the Gondolin hominin-bearing paleocave deposits, North West Province, South Africa, J. Human Evolution. 51, 617-631.
  • Herries, A.I.R, Reed, K., Kuykendall, K.L., Latham, A.G., 2006. Speleology and Magnetobiostratigraphic chronology of the Buffalo Cave fossil bearing palaeodeposits, Makapansgat, South Africa. Quaternary Research. 66, 233-245.
  • Herries, A.I.R., 2006. Archaeomagnetic evidence for climate change at Sibudu Cave. Southern African Humanities. 18, 131-147.

Book Chapters

  • Braun, D.R., Levin, N.E., Roberts, D., Stynder, D., Forrest, F., Herries, A.I.R., Mathews, T., Bishop, L., Archer, W., Pickering, R. 2012. Initial Investigations of Acheulean Hominin Behaviour at Elandsfontein. In: A. Jerardino and D. Braun, (Eds.) Archaeology of the West Coast, South Africa. Johannesburg:  Witwatersrand University Press
  • Herries, A.I.R., Pickering, R., Adams, J.W., Curnoe, D., Warr, G., Latham, A.G., Shaw, J. 2012. A multi-disciplinary perspective on the age of Australopithecus in southern Africa. In: Reed, K.E., Fleagle, J.G., Leakey, R. (Eds.) Paleoecology of Australopithecus. Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology series.
  • Herries, A.I.R., 2009. New approaches for integrating palaeomagnetic and mineral magnetic methods to answer archaeological and geological questions on Stone Age sites. In Fairbrain, A., O’Conner, S., Marwick, B. (Eds.) Terra Australis 28 - New Directions in Archaeological Science.The Australian National University Press, Canberra, Australia. Chapter 16: 235-253.
  • Herries, A.I.R., Latham, A.G., 2009. Chapter 5: Archaeomagnetic studies at the Cave of Hearths. In: McNabb, J., Sinclair, A.G.M. (Eds.) The Cave of Hearths: Makapan Middle Pleistocene Research Project. University of Southampton series in archaeology (Archaeopress; Oxford), 1: 59-64.

Research projects

Early hominins and the Oldowan to Acheulian transition (5 Ma – 1 Ma)

  • Langebaanweg Fossil Park. In collaboration with Dave Roberts (Council for Geosciences, South Africa). I have been undertaking palaeomagnetic analysies of this important Miocene/Pliocene fossil locality, the only one of its age in South Africa. We are also investigating a series of other Plio-Miocene localities on the western coast of South Africa. Funding from NRF.
  • Schurveberg Research Project,(South Africa). In collaboration with Justin Adams (Biomedical Sciences, Grand Valley State University), Jason Hemingway, Anthony Kegley (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa) and Francis Thackeray (Transvaal Museum, South Africa). This work has focused at the hominin fossil sites of Gondolin and primate fossil site of Hoogland. Recent work has focused on field survey for new localities around the site of Haasgat. Funding from NSF
  • Taung, South Africa. Uranium-lead, palaeomagnetic and palaeoenvironmental analysis of the Plio-Plesitocene, Taung hominin bearing tufas. The aim is to get a more precise date for the Taung Child hominin skull. In collaboration with Phil Hopley (University College London), Brian Kuhn (U. Witwatersrand) and Colin Menter (University of Johannesburg). Funding from National Geographic.
  • Koobi Fora, Kenya. This project is directed by Jack Harris (Rutgers University, U.S.A) and David Braun (University of Cape Town, South Africa). I have been undertaking palaeomagnetic analysis of a number of Oldowan sites.
  • Drimolen Palaeocave, South Africa. In collaboration with Colin Menter (University of Johannesburg). I am conducting preliminary palaeomagnetic analysis of this Paranthropus robustus bearing site.
  • Coopers Palaeocave, South Africa. In collaboration with Christine Steininger (University of the Witwatersrand). I am conducting preliminary palaeomagnetic analysis of this Paranthropus robustus bearing site.
  • Malapa and Gladysvale Palaeocaves, South Africa. In collaboration with Lee Berger (U. Wits), Paul Dirks (James Cook Uni.) Robyn Pickering (U. Melbourne). I am correlating geochronological and palaeoenvironemntal analysis of this newly discovered hominin bearting site. The type site for the new species. Australopithecus sediba.

 Middle Pleistocene Homo and the late Acheulian of Africa (1 Ma – 200 ka)

  • Cornelia Research Project, South Africa. In collaboration with James Brink (National Museum, South Africa). I have been excavating at this ~1.0 Ma hyena den, that also contains intrusive Acheulian artefacts and a hominin tooth. Future research plans to understand the age of the wider landscape and archaeological and fossil bearing land surfaces around the hyena den.
  • Northern Cape Palaeontological Survey.In collaboration with James Brink (National Museum, South Africa), Darren Curnoe (UNSW), John Gowlett (Uni Liverpool). This project took place in July 2008 and involved extensive field survey for new archaeological and fossil sites across the Northern Cape and Free State of South Africa. Several fossil localities were discovered along with numerous archaeological sites covering a variety of periods. Excavations are planned at one of these sites near Port Nolloth. The site contains stratified marine and terrestrial fauna along with Acheulian artefacts.
  • Behavioural ecology of Middle Pleistocene Hominins along the West Coast of South Africa. In collaboration with David Braun (UCT, S. Africa), Naomi Levin (John Hopkins University, US). This work has currently focussed on the hominin and Acheulian bearing site of Elandsfontein.
  • Kilombe and Chesowanja Archaeological Project. In collaboration with John Gowlett (University of Liverpool, U.K.) and James Brink (National Museum Bloemfontein, South Africa). Excavations are currently taking place at the Kilombe Acheulian site.
  • Buffalo Cave Research Project, Makapansgat, South Africa. In collaboration with James Brink (Nat. Museum, Bloemfontein), Phil Hopley (UCL, UK) and Kevin Kuykendall (U. Sheffield). Breccia from this early Pleistocene fossil site is currently being prepared along with palaeoenvironmental work on speleothem deposits.

Modern Human Origins (200- 50 ka)

  •  Modern Human Origins in Yunnan Province, China (with Darren Curnoe, Paul Tacon, Ji Xueping, Su Bing).This is a new research project set up between UNSW (Australia), Griffith University (Australia), the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology (China) and the Kunming Institute of Zoology (China). The aim is to excavate and study a series of rock art and human fossil sites in the region. My roles in the project are to direct excavations and undertake palaeoenvironmental and geochronological analysis as well as help plan and direct excavations and sampling. Funded until 2012 by ARC.
  • SACP4/MAP, South Africa. These joint projects are run by Curtis Marean at Arizona State University (Institute of Human Origins), U.S.A. I joined the Mossel Bay Archaeological Project in 2003. MAP concentrated on the archaeological excavation of a series of Middle Stone Age and modern human bearing caves at Pinnacle Point, along the Western Cape coast of South Africa. Excavations at one of these caves have revealed the oldest Middle Stone Age occupation of the Cape coast, use of ochre and systematic exploitation of marine resources (Marean et al., 2007 Nature). In 2006 I directed excavations at a further series of Middle Stone Age bearing caves that also require access using rope (PP Cave 9 Complex). Funding ongoing from NSF.
  • Mucho Barago Cave Project, Ethiopia. In collaboration with Erich Fisher and Steven Brandt (University of Florida, U.S.) I have been investigating sediment sourcing at this Later Stone age site by looking at the mineral magnetic analysis of cave sediments. Future aims include identifying short term geomagnetic field shifts recorded in volcanic tephra horizons within the cave sequence.
  • Sibudu Cave Research Project, South Africa. With Lyn Wadley (U. Witwatersrand) I have been undertaking magnetic work on fireplaces and climate change at Sibudu Cave since 2001. I am now concentrating on an anlysis of the ochre from the site.
  • The ESA to MSA transition in Malawi. In collaboration with Jessica Thompson (University of Queensland). I am undertaking archaeomagnetic analsysis on iron pan and hearth structures. Funded by ARC.

Prehistory (last 50 ka)

  • Thundza Regional archaeological Project (Bulgaria). In collaboration with Shawn Ross (Ancient History, UNSW). Until recently this has focused on the Thracian site of Kabile. The project is now expanding to undertake widespread field survey in the Thundza Region of Bulgaria as well as conduct palaeoclimate work on Pleistocene and Holocene lake sediments I have also been undertaking field survey for Palaeolithic to Mesolithic occupation in the caves of the region. Funded by ARC linkage Grant 2009-2011.
  • Archaeomagnetism of the southern hemisphere. In association with Mimi Hill (University of Liverpool). I have been undertaking work on pottery and hearths from South Africa and Australia (pottery, hearth rocks) to look at establishing archaeomagnetic curves in these regions and help understand southern hemisphere geomagnetic field variation.
  • Ghaap Archaeology,Palaeoanthropology and Palaeoclimate Project (GAPP), South Africa (with Darren Curnoe). This project has been running since June 2004. Excavation was undertaken at two Localities; 1) Molony’s Kloof Locality A (MK-A) and 2) Groot Kloof Locality B (GK-B). At MK-A excavations have revealed the presence of three phases including Herder, late Holocene Later Stone Age and a pre-Holocene Later Stone Age occupation.
  • Recovering palaeoclimate data from archaeological cave sites using environmental magnetism, palaeomagnetism and stable isotopes. Ongoing multi-site project in collaboration with numerous archaeologists working in Australia, Africa, Bulgaria, Greece, China and Spain. One of the aims is to investigate links between palaeoclimate and geomagnetic field variation.

Australia and SE. Asia

  • Wellington Regional Caves Project, Australia. In collaboration with Mike Augee (Wellington Caves Research Centre), Armstrong Osbourne (University of Sydney), Andy Baker (UNSW). This project is looking at the age of fossil caves in the Wellington Region of NSW.
  • Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, NSW. In collaboration with Nikki Stern (La Trobe University). I have been using archaeomagnetism to look at issues related to the heat treatment of silcrete and identification of combustion features in the open landscape.