Professor Thegn Niels Ladefoged

MA PhD (Hawaii)


  • Professor of Anthropology

Research | Current

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

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

Thegn’s research in New Zealand focuses on three projects. The first was recently funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund. Working with McCoy, Stevenson, O’Neale and Jorgensen the project examines how social networks beyond the village changed as Māori society developed. By tracing the spatial and temporal distribution of obsidian artefacts the project will document where and when new types of social forms came about in relation to diverse social and environmental contexts. The project builds on established methods for determining the movement of obsidian through chemical signatures of natural obsidian sources. Proposed experiments will re-establish obsidian hydration dating as a viable method for determining the age of New Zealand artefacts. By utilizing GIS and social network analysis modelling we will integrate the data to investigate the dynamic complexities of social interaction and gain new insights into how Māori society was transformed from village-based groups to powerful hapū and iwi.

Thegn’s second New Zealand project is as a member of Te Pūnaha Matatini: The Centre for Complex Systems and Networks, a New Zealand Government funded Centre of Research Excellence. Thegn is working with Allen, Plank, Kerr, and PhD student Reno Nims on a project investigating changes in Māori fishing.

Thegn’s third New Zealand based project is on Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island, working with Ngati Hei, Sir Michael Fay, Holdaway, Philipps, Jorgensen, and Furey. The project is investigating the history and land use of the island, with Thegn focusing on gardening activities on the island.

Thegn’s Hawai’i research is investigating Hawaiian ecodynamics, with an emphasis on the leeward districts of Kohala and Kona on the Big Island of Hawai’i. This research has been funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund, the National Science Foundation, with further grant applications in development. The work is multidisciplinary in nature and involves collaboration with archaeologists (McCoy, Kirch, Graves, Mulrooney, and Field), ecologists (Vitousek, Lincoln), soil scientists (Chadwick), botanists (Hotchkiss), and demographers (Tuljapurkar, Lee, Puleston). Thegn’s focus is on leeward rain-fed agricultural fieldsystems, where he is documenting the relationships between agricultural development, sociopolitical transformations, and ideological shifts.

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.

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)

  • Ladefoged, T. N., PRESTON, A., VITOUSEK, P. M., CHADWICK, O. A., STEIN, J., GRAVES, M. W., & LINCOLN, N. (2017). Soil nutrients and pre-European contact agriculture in the leeward Kohala field system, Island of Hawai‘i. Archaeology in Oceania10.1002/arco.5138
  • Puleston, C. O., Ladefoged, T. N., Haoa, S., Chadwick, O. A., Vitousek, P. M., & Stevenson, C. M. (2017). Rain, sun, soil, and sweat: A consideration of population limits on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) before European contact. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 510.3389/fevo.2017.00069
  • McCoy, M. D., Mulrooney, M. A., Horrocks, M., Cheng, H., & Ladefoged, T. N. (2017). Evaluating agricultural bet-hedging strategies in the Kona Field System: New high-precision ²³⁰Th/U and ¹⁴C dates and plant microfossil data from Kealakekua, Hawai'i Island. Archaeology in Oceania, 52 (1), 70-80. 10.1002/arco.5121
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Mark Horrocks
  • Quintus, S., Allen, M. S., & Ladefoged, T. N. (2016). In surplus and in scarcity: Agricultural development, risk management, and political economy on Ofu Island, American Samoa. American Antiquity, 81 (2), 273-293. 10.7183/0002-7316.81.2.273
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Melinda Allen
  • McIvor, I. H., & Ladefoged, T. N. (2016). A multi-scalar analysis of Māori land use on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island), New Zealand. Archaeology in Oceania, 51 (1), 45-61. 10.1002/arco.5080
  • Jones, B. D., Ladefoged, T. N., & Asner, G. (2015). Tracing the resilience and revitalisation of historic taro production in Waipi‘o Valley, Hawai‘i. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 124 (1), 83-109. 10.15286/jps.124.1.83-109
  • Phillips, N., Ladefoged, T. N., McPhee, B. W., & Asner, G. P. (2015). Location, location, location: A viewshed analysis of heiau spatial and temporal relationships in leeward Kohala, Hawai‘i. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 6 (2), 21-40.
  • Stevenson, C. M., Puleston, C. O., Vitousek, P. M., Chadwick, O. A., Haoa, S., & Ladefoged, T. N. (2015). Variation in Rapa Nui (Easter Island) land use indicates production and population peaks prior to European contact. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 112 (4), 1025-1030. 10.1073/pnas.1420712112


Contact details

Primary office location

Level 7, Room 716
New Zealand

Web links