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Research project

Australasian Colonisation Research: Origins of Seafaring to Sahul

Project overview

The ACROSS project – Origins of Seafaring to Sahul – is funded by Dr R. Helen Farr’s EU grant from the H2020 Research and Innovation programme for €1.135m over five years (02/18- 02/23).

One of the most exciting and enduring research questions within Archaeology is that of the peopling of the planet and the movement of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) Out of Africa. Within western science, the peopling of Sahul (modern day Australia and New Guinea) by at least 65,000 years ago, represents some of the earliest evidence of modern human dispersal outside Africa, whilst indigenous knowledge and oral tradition of many Aboriginal people is that they have always been there (Uluru Statement from the Heart 2017).

Whether ‘arriving’ or navigating coastal and now submerged landscapes, even at the greatest sea-level lowstand, any movement between Sunda (modern Island South East Asia) and Sahul would have involved seafaring. It is the maritime nature of this travel that makes it so important to questions of technological, cognitive and social human development.

These issues have traditionally been the preserve of archaeologists, but the ACROSS project takes a multidisciplinary approach that embraces marine geoarchaeology, oceanography, and archaeogenetics, to examine the When, Where, Who and How of the earliest ocean crossings in world history.

Aims and objectives:

- Resolve questions of the nature and timing of the peopling of Sahul and its implication for global population movement by modern humans

- Resolve questions of routing and likely duration of voyages to question factors of origins, intentionality and risk

- Integration of onshore and offshore data and unique combination of oceanography, geoscience, archaeology and archaeogenetic data.

Learn more about the ACROSS project here:

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 759677
ACROSS GEBCO gridded bathymetry data
The Sunda basin and Sahul during the Last Glacial Maximum. Even at the lowest of sea-level stands however, crossing from Sunda to Sahul would have involved boats or rafts (GEBCO gridded bathymetry data, ArcMap)
 examples of buried features, offshore islands and palaeoriver channels (Australia Geoscience)
Karmt and Petrel offshore 3D seismic (courtesy of Australia Geoscience), time slices to show examples of buried features, offshore islands (top) and palaeoriver channels


Lead researcher

Dr Helen Farr

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Seafaring
  • Submerged Palaeo Landscapes
  • Maritime Heritage
Connect with Helen
Other researchers

Professor Ivan Haigh


Research interests

  • I currently have 8 active research grants (4 as principle investigator (PI)) worth £4.8M. 
  • I am the PI on two international grants that started in 2019, both looking at compound flooding. Compound flooding (when the combination, or successive occurrence of, two or more hazard events leads to an extreme impact e.g., coastal and fluvial flooding), can greatly exacerbate the adverse consequences associated with flooding in coastal regions and yet it remains under-appreciated and poorly understood. In the £788k NERC- and NSF- (US National Science Foundation) funded CHANCE project, I am leading a team (working alongside researchers from the University of Central Florida), to deliver a new integrated approach to make a step-change in our understanding, and prediction of, the source mechanisms driving compound flood events in coastal areas around the North Atlantic basin. In the £575k NERC- and NAFOSTED- (Vietnam’s National Foundation for Science and Technology Development) funded project, I am leading a team that is working with colleagues in Vietnam to map and characterise present, and predict future, flood risk from coastal, fluvial, and surface sources and, uniquely, to assess the risk of compound flooding across the Mekong delta; one of the three most vulnerable deltas in the world. I am also the PI on a grant, which started in 2021. In this 41k project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat), we are assessing past and future closures of the six storm surge barriers in the Netherlands.
  • In 2021, I was awarded a 3-year (50% of my time) prestigious Knowledge Exchange Fellowship funded by NERC (UK’s Natural Environmental Research Council) and worth £154k. This fellowship builds strongly on my prior research and the overall goal is to provide guidance and tools that will help storm surge barrier operators better prepare for the impacts of climate change across every area of their operation now and into the future. Within the fellowship I am working primary with the UK Environment Agency (EA) and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat). However, to ensure the work undertaken can benefit all the existing (and planned) surge barriers around the world, I am also working closely with I-STORM. I-STORM is an international knowledge sharing network for professionals relating to the management, operation and maintenance of storm surge barriers, and has representation from all the surge barriers worldwide.
Connect with Ivan

Professor Justin Dix

Professor in Marine Geology & Geophysics
Connect with Justin

Professor Robert Marsh

Professor of Oceanography and Climate
Connect with Robert

Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups

Research outputs