Professor Thegn Niels Ladefoged

MA PhD (Hawaii)


  • Professor of Anthropology,
  • Associate Dean (Research)

Research | Current

  • Oceanic prehistory
  • Socio-political transformations
  • Agricultural development
  • Landscape archaeology
  • Spatial analysis

Thegn’s research focuses on projects in Hawai‘i, Rapa Nui, and New Zealand.

On Rapa Nui, Thegn is involved in a project investigating the evidence for terrestrial resource dynamics and societal collapse. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and includes researchers from Rapa Nui (Haoa), the United States (Stevenson, Chadwick, Vitousek, Puleston), and New Zealand (Ladefoged). The research is focusing on climate change, environmental degradation, and subsistence transformations to develop an empirical assessment of how these may, or may not, have influenced pre-European contact societal collapse on the island.

Thegn’s Hawai’i research involves investigating the ecodynamics of windward and leeward Kohala on the Big Island of Hawai’i. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation, and is multidisciplinary in nature. It involves collaborative fieldwork by archaeologists (Kirch, Graves, McCoy, and Field), ecologists (Vitousek), soil scientists (Chadwick), botanists (Hotchkiss), and demographers (Tuljapurkar, Lee, Puleston). Thegn’s focus is on the leeward Kohala rain-fed agricultural fieldsystem, where he is documenting the relationships between agricultural development, sociopolitical transformations, and ideological shifts.

In addition, Thegn’s research in Hawai‘i is refining a predictive model of the distribution of pre-European contact intensive rain-fed agriculture throughout the archipelago. This project was funded by a Marsden grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand. The research is refining a current GIS-based model for the distribution of agriculture with archaeological, geochemical, and remotely sensed data. The refined model will form the basis for further agent-based modelling of the Hawaiian socio-political responses to differential production potentials. The research is in collaboration with Vitousek, Chadwick, and Lincoln, and will provide insights into the constraints that limited expansion of intensive rain-fed agriculture, and investigate alternative behaviours for increasing resource bases such as warfare and marriage alliances.

Thegn’s research in New Zealand focuses on three projects. He is a member of Te Pūnaha Matatini: The Centre for Complex Systems and Networks, a recently funded Centre of Research Excellence. Thegn will be working with members of Te Pūnaha Matatini on changes in Māori fishing and other projects.

He is also working on a project on Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island with Peter Tiki Johnston and Peter Matai Johnston of Ngati Hei, Sir Michael Fay, and Simon Holdaway, Rebecca Phillipps, Alex Jorgensen, and Louise Furey. The project is investigating the history and land use of the island, with Thegn focusing on gardening activities on the island.

Thegn’s third New Zealand project is in collaboration with Mark McCoy in the Bay of Islands.  The project was funded by a Royal Society of New Zealand FastStart Marsden grant awarded to McCoy, and is investigating the ecological and cultural motivations of territoriality and warfare. The project includes archaeological field and laboratory research to model interaction via obsidian access/trade routes; the timing, location, and scale of fortification construction; and agricultural productivity. The research will provide a better understanding of why people fight over status, resources, and land.

Professor Thegn Ladefoged's Research

Teaching | Current

ANTHRO 104 Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific

ANTHRO 200 Archaeology: Understanding the Past

ANTHRO 306 Pacific Archaeology

ANTHRO 703AB Landscape Archaeology

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Lincoln, N., & Ladefoged, T. (2014). Agroecology of pre-contact Hawaiian dryland farming: the spatial extent, yield and social impact of Hawaiian breadfruit groves in Kona, Hawai'i. Journal of Archaeological Science, 49, 192-202. 10.1016/j.jas.2014.05.008
  • McCoy, M. D., Ladefoged, T. N., Codlin, M., & Sutton, D. G. (2014). Does Carneiro's circumscription theory help us understand Maori historyα An analysis of the obsidian assemblage from Pouerua Pa, New Zealand (Aotearoa). Journal of Archaeological Science, 42 (1), 467-475. 10.1016/j.jas.2013.11.034
  • Vitousek, P. M., Chadwick, O. A., Hotchkiss, S. C., Ladefoged, T. N., & Stevenson, C. M. (2014). Farming the Rock: A biogeochemical perspective on intensive agriculture in Polynesia. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 5 (2), 51-61.
  • Stevenson, C. M., Ladefoged, T. N., & Novak, S. W. (2013). Prehistoric settlement chronology on Rapa Nui, Chile: Obsidian hydration dating using infrared photoacoustic spectroscopy. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (7), 3021-3030. 10.1016/j.jas.2013.03.019
  • Ladefoged, T. N., Flaws, A., & Stevenson, C. M. (2013). The distribution of rock gardens on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) as determined from satellite imagery. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (2), 1203-1212. 10.1016/j.jas.2012.09.006
  • Stevenson, C. M., Ladefoged, T. N., Haoa, S., Chadwick, O., & Puleston, C. (2013). Prehistoric Obsidian Exchange on Rapa Nui. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, 8 (1), 108-121. 10.1080/15564894.2012.745457
  • McCoy, M. D., Ladefoged, T. N., Bickler, S. H., Stephen, J. W., & Graves, M. W. (2012). The value of an "eclectic and pragmatic" approach to chronology building. Antiquity, 86 (334), 1206-1209. Related URL.
  • McCoy, M. D., Ladefoged, T. N., Graves, M. W., & Stephen, J. W. (2011). Strategies for constructing religious authority in ancient Hawai'i. Antiquity, 85 (329), 927-941. Related URL.


Contact details

  • Media Contact

Primary location

Level 7, Room 716
New Zealand

Web links