Dr Huw Barton

Reader in Bioarchaeology

Huw Barton

Contact Details

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 2793

Email: hjb15@le.ac.uk

Personal details

BA, PhD (SydneY), SFHEA

I grew up in Canberra, Australia, where I developed an interest in natural history, particularly geology, palaeontology and later prehistoric archaeology. I took both my degrees at the University of Sydney. My PhD was an application of evolutionary ecology to model long-term trends in hunter-gatherer behaviour using surface scatters of stone artefacts in the Simpson Desert, western Queensland. In 2002 I joined the University of Leicester as AHRB postdoc with the Niah Caves Project, then held an AHRB Innovation Award, and I currently holds a Wellcome Trust Award in Bioarchaeology. I worked in contract archaeology (CRM) in Australia for several years and held positions with New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Australian Museum before returning to university for a higher degree.


I teach all three levels of undergraduate studies.


Barton H, Piper P and Rabett R. 2009. Composite hunting technologies from the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene, Niah Cave, Borneo. Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 1708-1714.

Higham TFG, Barton H, Turney CSM, Barker G, Bronk Ramsey C, Brock F. 2009. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal from tropical sequences: results from the Niah Great Cave, Sarawak, and their broader implications. Journal of Quaternary Science 24: 189-197.

Barton H. 2007. Starch residues on museum artefacts: implications for determining tool use. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 1752-1762.

Barton H and Paz V. 2007. Subterranean diets in the tropical rainforest of Sarawak, Malaysia.  In Denham TP, Iriarte J and Vrydaghs L. (eds) Rethinking Agriculture: Archaeological and ethnoarchaeological perspectives. One World Archaeology. California: Left Coast Press Inc.

Mercader J, Barton H, Gillespie J, Harris J, Kuhn S, Tyler R and Boesch C. 2007. 4300-year-old Chimpanzee Sites and the Origins of Percussive Stone Technology. Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, February 27, Vol. 104, No. 9: 3043-3048.

Torrence R and Barton H. (eds). 2006. Ancient Starch Research. California: Left Coast Press Inc.

View a full list of publications.


I specialise in Southeast Asian prehistory, the archaeology and anthropology of hunters & gatherers, prehistoric diet, hunter-gatherer management of wild plants, vegecultures, and the origins of tropical agriculture. My doctoral work was an investigation of surface lithic scatters in the Simpson Desert of western Queensland. In that work I approached the analysis of lithic scatters through the theoretical frameworks of Human Behavioural Ecology and Technological Organisation. I also specialise in the analysis of organic residues on artefacts and am an expert in the analysis of ancient starch granules as an indicator of prehistoric plant use that is opening windows not just into human diet, but also that of primates, past and present.

The New Archaeology of Primates

Chimpanzee Archaeology

National Geographic: 'Ancient Oat Discovery May Poke More Holes in Paleo Diet'

Previous projects include the AHRC funded Niah Caves Project (2000-2003)  that delved into the Pleistocene occupation of Borneo in one of the world's most remarkable open cave systems. I recorded a first-hand blog of my experiences in 2001.

Cultured rainforests

Current research is focused on the histories of hunter-gatherers and farmers in tropical rainforests and an investigation or perhaps reappraisal might be a better term, of the extent to which rainforests are 'artefacts' of human interaction over long periods of time. This work was primarily funded by an AHRC grant titled, The Cultured Rainforest (2007-2010) of which I was a Co-Investigator, though work in the region and on the results continues to shape my research into this fascinating topic. Outputs have included several journal articles and two museum exhibitions as well as a photographic exhibition in Leicester and has captured the imagination of a wider audience.

Cultured Rainforest Exhibition MAA

Photographs marking the opening The Cultured Rainforest at MAAli (Flickr)

SAPIENS: 'The Myth of the Virgin Rainforest'

This research also inspired a truly interactive rainforest walkthrough of the study area by photographer and artist, Douglas Cape.


During one of my research trips to Borneo in 2012, we recorded a short film about the process of making sago in the traditional way with our Penan collaborators. This film also shows rare footage of green bark containers in use as cooking equipment on an open fire.

Making Sago at Long Beruang

Current Projects

1) The role of wild sago palms in early agricultural systems in south subtropical China (BA IPMS).

  • Early Neolithic diets of southern China (ancient starch analysis)
  • Ethnobotany of sub-tropical plant foods in Yunnan

2) Tana' Pengruip and the Worlds' of the Penan (BA).

  • Cosmological understandings of forest and of people-plant relationships
  • Histories of sago palm use

3) Investigation of Late Pleistocene and early Holocene plant use in North Africa

  • Ancient starch analysis of grinding stones

4) 'Vegecultures' and agriculture in Island Southeast Asia

  • Archaeological and anthropological approaches to the histories and emergence and practices termed 'vegeculture' that involve the management and manipulation of long-lived plants, especially those species that can be reproduced asexually. This research also encompasses anthropological research into hunter-gatherer plant use and of considerations of plant materiality in shaping the nature of people-plant engagements.


Topics available for PhD supervision:

  • Ancient starch analysis
  • organic residue analysis
  • microwear
  • Technological analysis of stone and organic tools
  • Southeast Asian archaeology
  • Australian archaeology
  • Hunter-gatherer archaeology and ethnography

Learn more about studying for a PhD with us.

Current students

Korakot Boonlop, thesis topic: The association between dental caries prevalence and the emergence of agriculture in the ancient population during pre and post agricultural period in Thailand. (First supervisor).

Paul Dickinson, thesis topic: Obsidian Tools as evidence for Value, trade and exchange: The microscopic analysis of use wear and residue on Araho’s type 1 obsidian tools from Willaumez, Papua New Guinea (5900 – 3600 BP). (First supervisor).

Belinda Mollard, thesis topic: Understanding a Ritual Landscape: An Investigation into the Rock Art of the Jornada Mogollon Region of the American Southwest. (Second supervisor).

Bori Nyiri, thesis topic: Chasing Dragons through Time and Space: Changing representations of Martabani storage jars. (First supervisor).

Past students

Dr Kelly Reed, thesis topic: The changing face of farming: archaeobotanical analysis of Neolithic to Bronze Age Agriculture in southeast Europe (5500 BC – 3000 BC).  (Second supervisor).

Dr Alan Spencer, thesis topic: The effects of rejuvenation on Great Basin Archaic Dart Points: Reconsidering morphologically derived typological schema in lithic analyses.  (Second supervisor).

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