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Dr R Helen Farr 


Dr R Helen Farr's photo

Dr R. Helen Farr is a Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

I am a maritime archaeologist with a focus on prehistoric submerged landscapes and early seafaring. I completed my PhD at Cambridge University studying Mediterranean obsidian circulation and maritime travel in the Neolithic. This research led into a post-doctoral position at Cambridge University and a fellowship within the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.  During this time I developed an interest in prehistoric submerged landscapes and worked on a project in Calabria, southern Italy. In 2009 I was awarded a three year Leverhulme early career fellowship to work at Southampton University studying the prehistoric submerged landscapes of the Solent and the dynamic relationship between people and their changing environment as sea-levels rose during the Holocene. This fellowship led into an interdisciplinary lectureship within the newly formed Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute where I developed interdisciplinary marine research in Archaeology and Ocean and Earth Science.

In 2017 I was lucky enough to be awarded a prestigious European Research Council Horizon 2020 grant (2018-2022), to take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of early human colonization of Australasia (The ACROSS project). As part of this project I am leading a team of archaeologists, geologists and geneticists from a selection of research institutes around the world to study the earliest undisputed evidence for seafaring. As the arrival of humans in Australia is one of the most important global questions in deep-time archaeology, I am collaborating with colleague across the ARC Centre for Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).

My research interests focus around ancient island colonisation in relation to the development of early seafaring. My doctoral research used a combination of obsidian analysis and palaeo-environmental modelling to discuss prehistoric seafaring and the obsidian trade as socially embedded systems of knowledge and practice in the central Mediterranean during the Neolithic period. This work has developed to focus on the social implications of seafaring, navigation, boat technology and the maritime environment more generally across the Mediterranean, Black Sea and into the Indian Ocean where I have been working on the island of Mauritius. I was lucky enough to be involved in the Black Sea MAP and as well as undertaking scientific research, helped drive the development of the educational resources. As a passionate educator and Science communicator I have been involved in a number of media and educational projects.

I am an HSE commercial diver and on the editorial board for the Journal of Maritime Archaeology.

Research interests

I am fascinated by how people engaged with the sea in the past.  This includes an interest in prehistoric maritime communities, their activities, social organisation, technology, modes of travel and social networks of trade and exchange. Understanding the changing maritime environment is an important element of this.  People living on the coast have always been effected by coastal dynamics and changing sea-levels. Many prehistoric coastal landscapes, and the archaeological information which they hold, are now submerged due to Holocene sea-level rise. Modern interdisciplinary research combining underwater archaeology, marine geology and geophysical techniques enable us to identify and map these landscapes and the potential preserved archaeology within them.  My research on these submerged landscapes in southern Italy, the Black Sea, the Solent, and more recently, on the north western Australian continental shelf and Island South East Asia, aim to shed new light on these changing environments, early maritimity and the origins of seafaring.

In my current research I am combining my interest in early seafaring and submerged landscapes to reassess the peopling of Australasia 65,000 years ago. This represents some of the earliest evidence of modern human colonization outside Africa, yet, even at the greatest sea-level low stand, this migration would have involved seafaring. It is the maritime nature of this dispersal which makes it so important to questions of technological, cognitive and social human development. These issues have traditionally been the preserve of archaeologists, but with a multidisciplinary approach that embraces cutting-edge marine geophysical, hydrodynamic and archaeogenetic analyses, we now have the opportunity to examine the When, Where, Who and How of the earliest seafaring in world history.

Research group

Maritime Archaeology

Affiliate research group

Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins

Research project(s)

Bova Marina Maritime Project

The Bova Marina Maritime Project is a multidisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists, oceanographers and earth scientists working on the coast and near offshore zone in southern Calabria, Italy.

Mauritian Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Project

The main aim of this project is to understand how European colonial activity influenced environmental and cultural transformations in this region of the Indian Ocean. Specific locations, incorporating slave, indentured and Imperial sites, as well as those with high eco-archaeological potential, have provided key case studies to address this and allied aims.

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PhD Supervision

I am willing to supervise future postgraduate students on the following topics: submerged prehistoric landscapes, Mediterranean prehistory, obsidian analysis, early seafaring, island archaeology and maritime connectivity.  Geographic regions of particular interest include the UK, central Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Mauritius and Australia.

Dr R Helen Farr
Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number: 65A/3023

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