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.

  • Professional development courses
  • Professional accreditation
  • Benchmarking
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archaeology
  • Archaeological science
  • Archaeology of New Guinea and Pacific Islands
  • Coastal and island archaeology
  • Radiocarbon dating of marine materials
  • Impacts of people on new environments
  • Cultural heritage management and climate change
  • Refining archaeological chronologies
  • Improving archaeology teaching and learning
  • Problem-based learning
  • Research-led teaching
  • 2016 to present - 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)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 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
  • 2017 - Honorary Fellow, School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Australia
  • 2015 - Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities
  • 2011 - Fellow, Cairns Institute
  • 2011 - Fellow, Society of Antiquaries of London
  • 2007 - Honorary Research Fellow, Queensland Museum
  • 2013 to 2017 - Future Fellow, Australian Research Council
  • 2013 to 2016 - Fellow, Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts
  • 2011 to 2014 - Honorary Senior Fellow, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, The University of Queensland
  • 2017 - Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Australia Inc.
  • 2014 - The Prehistoric Society
  • 2011 - Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
  • 2011 - Centre for Language and Culture Research
  • 2006 - Society for American Archaeology
  • 2005 - International Council for Archaeozoology Archaeomalacology Working Group
  • 2003 - Australasian Institute of Maritime Archaeology
  • 2003 - Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria
  • 2002 - Australasian Quaternary Association
  • 2002 - Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology
  • 2002 - Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association
  • 2001 - Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc.
  • 2000 - Royal Society of Queensland
  • 1998 - Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  • 1992 - World Archaeological Congress
  • 1989 - Australian Archaeological Association
  • 2016 - Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage
  • 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
  • 2006 - Member, World Archaeological Congress Code of Ethics Committee
  • 1999 - Editor, Queensland Archaeological Research
  • 2015 to 2016 - Deputy Chair, Humanities and Creative Arts (HCA), Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts
  • 2012 to 2016 - Deputy Director, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
  • 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.

Other research outputs

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 108+ 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 - 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, Curtin University of Technology, University of York and Aarhus Universitet)
submerged archaeology; Maritime Archaeology; shell middens; Indigenous Australian archaeology; Coastal Archaeology

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Future Fellowships

Developing accurate trans-holocene coastal and ocean chronologies: Resolving fundamental problems in the dating of marine shell in the tropics

Indicative Funding
$699,593 over 5 years
Archaeological and quaternary science in tropical Australasia is heavily reliant on radiocarbon (14C) ages on marine materials. However, radiocarbon ages obtained on marine samples are not directly comparable to contemporaneous terrestrial samples owing to variability in the way 14C is distributed in marine environments (the 'marine reservoir effect'). Marine reservoir effects are highly variable and can introduce uncertainties of up to several hundred years into ages obtained on marine samples, creating a key obstacle for advancing archaeological, sea-level and climate change research. This project establishes a reliable model of marine reservoir effects across tropical Australasia that can be used to calibrate marine 14C ages.
Sean Ulm (College of Arts and Society & Education)
Archaeology; Radiocarbon Dating; marine reservoir effect

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 Productions and Society in a Prehistoric Mining Community in Laos. (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Environmental Change and Anthropogenic Fire in northern Australia during the late Holocene (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • An Archaeozoological Approach to Characterising the Impacts of Long-Term Shellfish and Fin-fish Resource Use on the Great barrier Reef, Australia (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Engineered Land and Seascapes: Using UAVs and Photogrammetry to Investigate Kaiadilt Aboriginal Stone-Walled Intertidal Fish traps in the South Wellesley Islands, Gulf of Carpentaria (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Geophysical Explorations of Archaeological Shell Matrix Sites: Evaluating Geophysical Techniques in Determining the Boundaries, Structure and Volume of Buried Shell Deposits (2017, PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A Novel Application of Sclerochronology and Scleroisotope Analysis: Forging New Understandings of Aboriginal Occupation in the South Wellesley Archipelago, Gulf of Carpentaria. (2016, PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • The Application of Ecological Models and Trophic Analyses to Archaeological Marine Fauna Assemblages: Towards Improved Understanding of Prehistoric Marine Fisheries and Ecosystems in Tropical Australia (2016, PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Health, diet and migration prior to the establishment of the pre-Angkorian civilisation of Southeast Asia (2014, PhD , Secondary Advisor)

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


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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