Top ranking for our archaeologists

01 March 2018
Archaeologist and Head of Social Sciences Professor Simon Holdaway on Ahuahu Great Mercury Island.
Archaeologist and Head of Social Sciences Professor Simon Holdaway at a dig on Ahuahu Great Mercury Island.

One of the best places in the world to study archaeology is at the University of Auckland, according to the latest QS World University Rankings.

Archaeology is now ranked 10th in the world, putting us alongside big hitters from the Northern Hemisphere.

Archaeology is once again the highest ranked subject at the University of Auckland in 2018.

"This is very exciting news," says Sir Michael Fay, who in 2009 teamed up with University archaeologists and Auckland Museum to create New Zealand's largest ongoing archaeological dig on Ahuahu Great Mercury Island off the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.

"The University has been incredibly motivated, professional and inspirational during this project on Great Mercury," says Sir Michael, a co-owner of the island. 

"They are slowly but surely re-writing the story of New Zealand's earliest arrivals with such commitment and standards of excellence. Now it is fantastic to see them achieving success on the world stage."

Professor Simon Holdaway, Head of Social Sciences and one of the co-leaders of the Ahuahu Great Mercury Island project says the University's archaeology team of five full-time academic staff is punching well above its weight.

"Everyone in our group is at the top of their game," he says. "We all have high international profiles and are engaged in multiple research projects working with indigenous communities — for example Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Rapanui and the Marquesas – and collaborating with Māori and Australian Aboriginal people."

Simon says his team are very innovative and nimble in their approaches and are technically proactive. "We do lots of field research and we have invested in advanced technology — LIDAR, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), and Robotic Total Stations — to map location of artefacts, plus geographic information software to understand the distribution of artefacts and features across landscapes."

The core focus of Auckland archaeology is to investigate the relationships between humans and their environment by understanding palaeo environmental and palaeo climatic changes. Current projects include using basalt tool geochemistry and climate-informed voyaging simulations, to explore southern Cook Islands interactions with the broader Polynesian world in the 11th to 16th centuries AD; understanding the way Māori moved obsidian — a volcanic glass — around the country; and studying stone artefact movements by the very first Māori to settle in New Zealand.

Archaeology students work closely with academic staff on multidisciplinary projects both within New Zealand and beyond.

"The students are put into situations where they can excel, and when they do, they stand out on the world scene,” says Simon.

The Faculty of Arts is ranked as the University's strongest overall disciplinary grouping at 28th in the world for Arts and Humanities and 33rd in the world for Social Sciences.

Dean of Arts, Professor Robert Greenberg, says the rankings are testament to the high quality of the academic staff and the research generated by the Faculty, which in turn benefits students.

"We are delighted to see that the disciplines in the Faculty of Arts have once again been ranked very highly."

"These rankings demonstrate the overall excellence of the Faculty of Arts which greatly enhances the reputation of the University of Auckland overall. We are proud to offer our students the opportunity to study in a world class institution."

The Faculty of Arts maintained its strong rankings across its subjects again this year, with English Language and Literature 31st in the world; Philosophy 36th in the world; Anthropology and Modern Languages 41st in the world; and Sociology, Linguistics, Development Studies, Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies, Communication and Media Studies, History and Politics and International Relations all in the top 100 in the world.

Archaeology is amazing