Sean’s research focuses on persistent problems in the archaeology of northern Australia and the western Pacific where understanding the relationships between environmental change and cultural change using advanced studies of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sequences are central to constructions of the human past. His priority has been to develop new tools to investigate and articulate co-variability and co-development of human and natural systems.

A major strand of this research has been in the field of archaeological science, where Sean leads integrated research programmes designed to improve methods used to establish chronologies and taphonomic sequences to increase confidence in data resolution underpinning models of past human behaviour. This ongoing work refines chronologies of human occupation in tropical coastal areas and allows calibration of archaeological datasets with terrestrial environmental records, creating the potential for much closer integration of these two key sources of information. Sean has applied these understandings to key archaeological issues, including establishing correlations between archaeological and climate records in northern Australia and evaluating the evidence for Polynesian voyaging to the Americas.

His publications include more than 100 articles on the archaeology of Australia and 5 books. Sean has conducted research in Australia, Honduras, Chile, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

  • RM8101: Research Planning in Tropical Environments and Societies (Level 8; CNS & TSV)
  • RM8102: Research Project in Tropical Environments and Societies (Level 8; CNS & TSV)
  • Equity and diversity
  • Professional development
  • Benchmarking
  • Building knowledge communities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archaeology
  • Archaeology of New Guinea and Pacific Islands
  • Archaeology of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Archaeological science
  • Coastal and island archaeology
  • Radiocarbon dating of marine materials
  • Impacts of people on new environments
  • Cultural heritage management and climate change
  • Improving archaeology teaching and learning
  • Problem-based learning
  • Research-led teaching
  • 2021 to present - Associate Dean Research, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2020 to present - Associate Dean Research Education, James Cook University (Cairns, Townsville)
  • 2019 to present - Distinguished Professor, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2016 to 2018 - Professor, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2013 to 2017 - ARC Future Fellow, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2013 to 2015 - Associate Professor/ARC Future Fellow, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2011 to 2012 - Lecturer, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2010 to 2011 - Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland (Brisbane)
  • 2005 to 2010 - Lecturer, The University of Queensland (Brisbane)
  • 1999 to 2005 - Senior Researcher, The University of Queensland (Brisbane)
  • 2000 to 2004 - Lecturer, The University of New England (Brisbane)
  • 1993 to 1998 - Researcher, The University of Queensland (Brisbane)
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2019 - JCU Distinguished Professor
  • 2017 - Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology
  • 2014 - The Bruce Veitch Award for Excellence in Indigenous Engagement
  • 2008 - Life Membership for Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Archaeological Association Inc.
  • 2007 - Martin Davies Award for Best Public Archaeology Initiative
  • 2004 - Dean’s Commendation for Outstanding Research Higher Degree Thesis, The University of Queensland
  • 2000 - Royal Society of Queensland – Colliver Prize
  • 1995 - University Medal, The University of Queensland
  • 2015 - Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities
  • 2011 - Fellow, Cairns Institute
  • 2011 - Fellow, Society of Antiquaries of London
  • 2007 - Honorary Research Fellow, Queensland Museum
  • 2017 to 2019 - Honorary Fellow, School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Australia
  • 2013 to 2017 - Future Fellow, Australian Research Council
  • 2011 to 2014 - Honorary Senior Fellow, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, The University of Queensland
  • 2018 - International Council for Archaeozoology
  • 2017 - Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Australia Inc.
  • 2014 - The Prehistoric Society
  • 2011 - Centre for Language and Culture Research
  • 2011 - Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
  • 2006 - Society for American Archaeology
  • 2003 - Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria
  • 2002 - Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association
  • 2002 - Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology
  • 2002 - Australasian Quaternary Association
  • 2001 - Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc.
  • 2000 - Royal Society of Queensland
  • 1998 - Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  • 1989 - Australian Archaeological Association
  • 2021 - Research Integrity Advisor, James Cook University
  • 2021 - Associate Dean Research, James Cook University
  • 2020 - Editor, Australian Archaeology
  • 2020 - Associate Dean Research Education, James Cook University
  • 2019 - Member, Council Australian Academy of the Humanities
  • 2018 - Member, 2018 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) Research Evaluation Committee (REC) for Humanities and Creative Arts Committee (HCA)
  • 2017 - Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage
  • 2017 - Theme Leader, Cultural and Linguistic Transformations, The Cairns Institute
  • 2014 - Editorial Board, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
  • 2013 - Editorial Board, Journal of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists
  • 2013 - Editorial Board, The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology
  • 2010 - Editorial Board, Queensland Historical Atlas
  • 1999 - Editor, Queensland Archaeological Research
  • 2018 to 2023 - Chair, Scientific Committee, International Council of Archaeozoology Conference (7-12 August 2023)
  • 2015 to 2016 - Deputy Chair, Humanities and Creative Arts (HCA), Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts
  • 2013 to 2016 - Fellow, Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts
  • 2012 to 2016 - Deputy Director, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University
  • 2006 to 2015 - Member, World Archaeological Congress Code of Ethics Committee
  • 2011 to 2014 - Editorial Advisory Board, Australian Archaeology
  • 2011 to 2013 - National Chair, Australian National Committee for Archaeology Teaching and Learning
  • 2003 to 2013 - Representative, Southeastern Asia and the Pacific, World Archaeological Congress
  • 2011 to 2012 - Convenor, Archaeology and Geoscience Specialist Committee, Australian Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Engineering
  • 2006 to 2011 - Editor, Australian Archaeology
  • 2008 to 2010 - Member, Archaeology and Geoscience Specialist Committee, Australian Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Engineering
  • 2003 to 2008 - Managing Editor, The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education
  • 2002 to 2003 - President, Australian Archaeological Association

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
Book Chapters

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 161+ research outputs authored by Prof Sean Ulm from 1995 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Research Council - Centres of Excellence

ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Origins and Transformations

Indicative Funding
$5,028,138 over 7 years (administered by University of Wollongong), in partnership with Flinders University ($10,000); Monash University ($14,299) and University of Wollongong ($5,000)
This Centre will create a world-class interdisciplinary research programme to understand Australia's unique biodiversity and heritage. The Centre will track the changes to Australia's environment to examine the processes responsible for the changes and the lessons that can be used to continue to adapt to Australia's changing environment. The Centre will support connections between the sciences and humanities and train future generations of researchers to deal with future global challenges and inform policy in an interdisciplinary context.
Richard Roberts, Susan O'Connor, Zenobia Jacobs, Timothy Cohen, Simon Haberle, Michael Bird, Sean Ulm, Chris Turney, Martin Nakata, Darren Curnoe, Corey Bradshaw, Bruno David, Lynette Russell, Barry Brook and Chris Johnson in collaboration with Brit Asmussen, Geraldine Mate, Michael Slack, Jean-Jacques Delannoy, Matthew Leavesley, Stephan Stephan, Michael Storey, Kieren Mitchell, Vera Weisbecker and Janelle Stevenson (University of Wollongong, Australian National University, College of Science & Engineering, College of Arts, Society & Education, The University of New South Wales, Indigenous Education & Research Centre, University of Adelaide, Monash University, University of Tasmania, Queensland Museum, Scarp Archaeology Pty Ltd, Universite de Savoie, University of Papua New Guinea, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Australian Museum and Flinders University)
Sahul; palaeoenvironments; Climate; archaeology; megafauna

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

The Deep History of Sea Country: climate, sea level and culture

Indicative Funding
$60,000 over 3 years (administered by Flinders University)
This is a pioneering, multi-disciplinary study of submerged landscape archaeology in Australia designed to investigate the records of the now-submerged Pilbara coast (spanning 50,000 to 7000 years ago). Information from drowned contexts will help address critical debates in Australian prehistory relating to past sea-level rise, population resilience, mobility, and diet. The project integrates cultural and environmental studies and contributes a unique southern hemisphere insight into world prehistory through material analysis and an adaptation of method from the world?s only confirmed submarine middens. A suite of cutting edge marine and aerial survey techniques will be developed to investigate physical and cultural submerged landscapes.
Jonathan Benjamin, Sean Ulm, Peter Veth, Jorg Hacker and Michael O'Leary in collaboration with Geoffrey Bailey and Mads Holst (Flinders University, College of Arts, Society & Education, The University of Western Australia, University of York and Aarhus Universitet)
submerged archaeology; Maritime Archaeology; shell middens; Indigenous Australian archaeology; Coastal Archaeology

Australian Research Council - Linkage - Infrastructure (L-IEF)

A national facility for the analysis of pyrogenic carbon

Indicative Funding
$358,031 over 1 year
This project will develop a National Facility for Pyrogenic Carbon Analysis. Pyrogenic carbon (biochar, soot, charcoal, black carbon) is a poorly constrained, slow-cycling terrestrial carbon pool with significant carbon sequestration potential. It is also an important source of palaeoenvironmental and geochronological information. We will expand newly developed hydrogen pyrolysis analytical capability to provide high throughput, robust, measurement of the abundance and isotope (13C, 14C) composition of pyrogenic carbon in soils and sediments. The facility will advance multiple research agendas at nine participating institutions across palaeoecology, geomorphology, geochronology, archaeology and carbon cycle/ sequestration science
Michael Bird, Sean Ulm, Timothy Cohen, Richard Roberts, Zenobia Jacobs, Lindsay Hutley, Balwant Singh, Hamish McGowan, Patrick Moss, Jessica Reeves, Simon Haberle, Susan O'Connor, Scott Mooney, Chris Turney and Michael-Shawn Fletcher (College of Science & Engineering, College of Arts, Society & Education, University of Wollongong, Charles Darwin University, The University of Sydney, The University of Queensland, Federation University, Australian National University, The University of New South Wales and The University of Melbourne)
biomass burning; Stable Isotope Analysis; Geoarchaeology; Radiocarbon; Biochar; Carbon Sequestration

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Ancient ceramics at Vilabouly: pottery production and society in Laos (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Understanding Kwokkunum Shell Mounds as Landscape Engineering: A Spatial and Temporal Archaeological approach (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • The cultural landscape of Mungana, Chillagoe, 1900-1958 (PhD , Advisor Mentor)
  • Topographical Texts: Connections Between Landscape, Movement, Materiality and Text in the Fiction of Patrick White, Gerald Murnane and Murray Bail (PhD , Advisor Mentor)
  • Investigating Constructed Seascapes in the Lizard Island Group, Far North Queensland. (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • A Comprehensive Grammar of Doromu-Koki (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Applying Chronometric Quality Standards to Evaluate the Precision and Accuracy of Data from Archaeological Sites in Torres Strait (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Kaiadilt Country: A Remote Sensing Approach to Documenting Long-Term Aboriginal land management technologies (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • A Grammar of Brokpa: A Trans-Himalayan Language of Bhutan (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Old Smithfield Township, Cairns,1876-1879: revealing the material life of a nineteenth-century town in Tropical North Queensland. (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)

These are the most recent metadata records associated with this researcher. To see a detailed description of all dataset records, visit Research Data Australia.


The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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