The University of Wollongong is set to become the nation’s hub for archaeological science after its self-confessed ‘‘Hobbit’’ scientist received a $3.1-million Australian Laureate Fellowship this week.
Professor Bert Roberts, best known for his work in discovering a ‘‘Hobbit’’ species of tiny human, received the prestigious fellowship on Monday after a lengthy application process.
The funding, together with financial and infrastructure support from the university, will enable Prof Roberts to transform UOW’s Centre for Archaeological Science into Australia’s first national centre for archaeological science.
A portion of the money will be used to staff the new centre, including attracting leading international researchers, as well as employing four post-doctoral and six PhD students.
‘‘This new centre will be a national facility that is linked in with other archaeological scientists at universities around the country – it just allows all the universities to be more well-organised than we have been in the past,’’ Prof Roberts said.
‘‘This is a people-driven program.
‘‘We’ve got about 14 people in the centre now and we’re going to go up to 25.
‘‘We’re virtually doubling the department.’’
Prof Roberts played a key role in the 2003 discovery and dating of the ‘‘Hobbit’’, a previously unknown species of small human who lived in Indonesia.
The centre’s new project will draw on the Hobbit discovery to develop technologies in archaeological dating and chemistry.
The techniques will then be applied to sites spanning 8000kilometres between central Asia and northern Australia – well known as a ‘‘mixing pot’’ of modern and ancient humans.
‘‘It’s a very interesting area to look at because there are lots of things happening there,’’ Prof Roberts said.
‘‘The project is about human evolution – we want to investigate how we evolved as a people, where and when people were living in certain parts of Australia and what actually happened.’’
Prof Roberts and his team are set to use archaeological chemistry, a process rarely used nationwide, to study residue on stone tools retrieved from historical digs.
‘‘We’re hoping these technologies can be used to provide a context for people,’’ he said.
‘‘People are interested in human origin, they want to know how they fit into the world.
‘‘I think we can look to the past to see what we ought to be doing and not doing.’’
Prof Roberts is one of just three UOW academics to receive the laureate fellowship.