Professor Melinda S Allen



Melinda gained her BA from the University of Arizona  (major in Anthropology, minor in Biology), followed by an MA in Anthropology (Archaeology) from the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa. Her doctoral research in the Cook Islands (Polynesia) investigated eight centuries of subsistence change and landscape dynamics on Aitutaki Island (University of Washington in 1992). She was a Research Anthropologist with Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu (Hawai'i) for five years before joining the University of Auckland's Department of Anthropology in 1996. She currently is a Professor of Anthropology at University of Auckland, Affiliate Graduate Faculty at University of Hawai'i, Mānoa, and Research Associate at Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

  • Associate Investigator, Te Pūnaha Matatini Centre for Research Excellence, Complexity & the Biosphere theme (2015-)
  • Principal Investigator, Marsden Fund, Royal Society of New Zealand, "Detecting prehistoric human-climate dynamics in central Polynesia using high-precision marine archives" (2012-2015)
  • Curator, Anthropology Zooarchaeological Reference Collection, 1996-

Research | Current

  • Pacific archaeology
  • Human palaeoecology
  • Indigenous marine fisheries
  • Settlement processes
  • Diet and subsistence economies
  • Exchange and interaction
  • Landscape dynamics

Melinda is an archaeologist with a focus on human palaeoecology, including human-climate relations, human ecodynamics, anthropogenic environments, and processes leading to social resilience. Her current research relates to long-term variation in traditional Polynesian marine fisheries; the diets and subsistence economies of prehistoric Pacific Islanders and their commensal animals; and the timing and drivers of Polynesian settlement processes.


ALLEN, M.S., A. McALISTER, F. PETCHEY, et al.  2021. Marquesan ceramics, palaeotsunami, and megalithic architecture: Ho‘oumi Beach site (NHo-3) in regional perspective, Marquesas Islands (Polynesia). Archaeology in Oceania  56(2): 73-99. Impact Factor (2020): 1.379

NIMS, R., D. FILIMOEHALA, M.S. ALLEN, and V.L. BUTLER. 2020. When less is more: Element selection as sampling strategy in zooarchaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science 121, 105205,  

SEAR, D.A., M.S. ALLEN, J.D. HASSALL, et al. 2020. Human Settlement of East Polynesia Earlier, Incremental, and Coincident with Prolonged South Pacific Drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.


ALLEN, M.S. 2021. Mid to late Holocene obsidian importation in the Mussau Islands. In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Talepakemalai: Lapita and its Transformations in the Mussau Islands of Near Oceania. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, UCLA, Los Angeles, pp. 459-479. 

ALLEN, M.S. 2021. Obsidian tool production and use at Talepakemalai (Site ECA). In P.V. Kirch (ed.), Talepakemalai: Lapita and its Transformations in the Mussau Islands of Near Oceania. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, UCLA, Los Angeles, pp. 489-499. 

ALLEN, M.S., MCALISTER, A. 2021. Archaeological studies in the northern Marquesas, Nuku Hiva Island. In: Bilan de la Recherche Archéologique en Polynésie Française 2005-2015, pp. 233-246. Punaauia, Tahiti: Ministére de la Culture de Polynésie Française Service de la Culture et du Patrimoine. (with Marquesan and French abstracts)

ALLEN, M.S. 2021. Morphological variability and temporal patterning in Marquesan domestic architecture: Anaho Valley in regional context. In: Bilan de la Recherche Archéologique en Polynésie Française 2005-2015, pp. 217-232. Punaauia, Tahiti: Ministére de la Culture de Polynésie Française Service de la Culture et du Patrimoine. With Marquesan and French abstracts; abbreviated and updated from Allen 2009,

LITTLETON, J., McFARLANE, G., and ALLEN, M.S. 2020. Human-animal entanglements and environmental change: Multi-species approaches in Remote Oceania. In Gwen Robbins Schug (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Climate and Environmental Change, pp. 493-510. New York: Routledge.

Current Research

  1. Chronology of East Polynesian Settlement: High-resolution radiocarbon chronologies are central to understanding processes of island settlement. Through careful selection and documentation of short-lived, identified taxa, and development of appropriate calibration procedures with expert colleagues, we have built refined sequences for two archipelagoes that are crucial to understanding regional settlement patterns: the southern Cook Islands at the western gateway to East Polynesia, and the Marquesas Islands at the far eastern edge. Funded by multiple grants from Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Ltd. and University of Auckland.
  2. Dynamics of Polynesian Voyaging: Interaction, Agency and Climate Change at a Cook Islands Crossroad (PI). Using basalt tool geochemistry and climate-informed voyaging simulations, our team is exploring southern Cook Islands interactions with the broader Polynesian world in the 11th to 16th centuries AD. Funded by National Geographic Society.
  3. Development of 230Th/U Dating of Coral Artifacts (AI): High-precision 230Th/U dating is one of the most exciting archaeological dating advances of the last decade. This research is extending the technology to simple coralline tools that are commonly recovered from many Pacific island sites. With Prof. Warren Sharp and Prof. Patrick Kirch (PIs, University of California, Berkeley) and Dr. G. Molle (AI, ANU). Funded by U.S. National Science Foundation (Archeometry program). 
  4. New Zealand Fisheries through Time (AI): This collaboration with A/Prof. Michael Plank (University of Canterbury) and Prof. Thegn Ladefoged (University of Auckland) is examining long-term resilience in North Island New Zealand fisheries using a combination of contemporary and archaeological records and mathematical models. Te Pūnaha Matatini, Centre of Research Excellence: Complexity and the Biosphere Theme.
  5. Human-climate Dynamics in Prehistoric Central Polynesia Using High-precision Marine Archives (PI):  More than 100 cores from microatolls and storm cast corals on Aitutaki (Cook Islands) are providing new climate archives for comparison with archaeological records of changing marine fisheries. With Dr. Andrew Lorrey (NIWA) and  A/P Michael Evans (University of Maryland). Funded by Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.

Teaching | Current

ANTHRO 207 Archaeological History of Aotearoa (New Zealand)

ANTHRO 746 The Archaeology of the Anthropocene (2022)

ANTHRO 701 Human Palaeoecology

ANTHRO 353 Archaeological Practice (2022)

Postgraduate supervision

Present graduate students: PhDs

  • Patricia Pillay  
  • Reno Nims, Maori marine fisheries, NZ; University of Auckland CoRE Te Punaha Matatini Doctoral Scholar (Primary supervisor w/ T. Ladefoged)
  • Kasey Alley, Shell mound formation processes (Second supervisor w/ S. Holdaway)

 Past graduate students: PhDs

  • Seth Quintus (PhD) – Human ecodynamics of terrestrial food production on Ofu Island, Manu'a, American Samoa, University Doctoral Scholar (primary supervisor); Dean's List for doctoral thesis excellence 2015
  • Jennifer Huebert (PhD) – The role of arboriculture in landscape domestication and agronomic development: A case study from the Marquesas Islands, East Polynesia; University Doctoral Scholar (primary supervisor, completed 2014)
  • Andrew McAlister (PhD) – Methodological issues in the geochemical characterisation and morphological analysis of stone tools: a case study from Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, East Polynesia; University Doctoral Scholar (co-supervisor w/ Peter Sheppard, completed 2011)
  • Jacqui A. Craig (PhD) – Stable isotope analysis of prehistoric human and commensal diets on Aitutaki, southern Cook Islands (co-supervisor Dr. Judith Littleton, completed (2009)

 Past graduate students (recent): MA and BAHons

  • Lucy Arrell (BAHons): Tropical cyclones & traditional Samoan food security practices (2021)
  • Kathleen Dons (BAHons): Tui, South Island Kokako and Maori birding (2021)
  • Lucy Hughes (BAHons): Geoarchaeology (2021)
  • Leteish Lamb (MA)  – The geochemistry and aging of bonefish (Albula sp.) otoliths: Insights for prehistoric fisheries on Aitutaki, Cook Islands (2021)
  • Patricia Pillay (MA) – Maori kuri (dog) husbandry in pre-European times. Kupe Leadership Scholarship recipient (2020)
  • Darby Filimoehala (MA) – Hawaiian marine fisheries, Univ Auckland Faculty of Arts International Masters Scholarship and Univ Auckland US/NZ Exchange Scholarship (2017-19)
  • Andrea Fuerch (BAHons) – Modelling Polynesian voyaging (2018)
  • Patricia Pillay (BAHons) – Shellfish as environmental proxies (2018)
  • Nicholas Radovanovic (BAHons) Marine exploitation on Great Mercury Island, NZ (2018)
  • Gareth Walters (MA Portfolio) – GIS analysis of Maungaroa Valley settlement, Rarotonga (w/ T. Ladefoged, 2017)
  • Nick Mainwaring (BAHons) – Cook Island oral traditons and regional interaction (2016)
  • April Smith (BAHons) – A review of Lapita dietary research (2016)
  • Sophie Miller (MA) – Bone histology and identication of fragmentary archaeological bone (co-supervisor with J. Littleton, 2014)
  • Lisa McKendry (MA) – Archaelogical evidence for Maori fibre use (w/ Ethan Cochrane, 2014)
  • Laura Dawson (MA) – Marquesan pig husbandry: insights from dental calculus (2013)
  • Adam Hand (MA) – Maori and vegetation processes: wood charcoal analyses (2013)
  • Lisa McKendry (BAHons) – Durabillity and strength properties of traditional Maori fibers (2013)
  • Sophie Miller(BAHons ) – Oral pathologies in southern Cook Island pigs (primary supervisor with Judith Littleton) (2013)
  • Sayali Sangamnerkar (BAHons) – Interaction and exchange in the Cook Islands: stone tool geochemistry on Aitutaki, (primary supervisor with P. Sheppard) (2013)
  • Laura Dawson (BAHons) – Dental calculus in Polynesian pigs: A pilot study (2012)
  • Adam Hand (BAHons) – Māori fuel use and vegetation histories on Great Mercury Island (1' supervisor with Rod Wallace) (2012)


see Committees/Professional Groups/Services

Areas of expertise

  • Pacific Archaeology
  • Human palaeoecology
  • Human-climate interactions
  • Island colonisation and settlement processes
  • Traditional Polynesian marine fisheries and technologies

Committees/Professional groups/Services

  • Honorary Editor, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 2016- (co-Editor, 2011-15)
  • Editorial Board, Asian Perspectives: The Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, 2021- 
  • Editorial Board, Conflict, Environment, and Social Complexity Series (Springer), 2020-
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 2017-
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 2010-
  • Associate Investigator, Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland Centre for Research Excellence, 2015-
  • Member, Polynesian Society Council,  2011-
  • Faculty of Arts Member, University Staffing Committee, 2017-19
  • Skinner Fund Committee, Royal Society of New Zealand, 2015-
  • Curator, Anthropology Zooarchaeological Reference Collection, 1996-

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Sear, D. A., Allen, M. S., Hassall, J. D., Maloney, A. E., Langdon, P. G., Morrison, A. E., ... Clarke, C. (2020). Human settlement of East Polynesia earlier, incremental, and coincident with prolonged South Pacific drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117 (16), 8813-8819. 10.1073/pnas.1920975117
  • Huebert, J. M., & Allen, M. S. (2020). Anthropogenic forests, arboriculture, and niche construction in the Marquesas Islands (Polynesia). JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL ARCHAEOLOGY, 5710.1016/j.jaa.2019.101122
  • Nims, R., Filimoehala, D., Allen, M. S., & Butler, V. L. (2020). When Less is More: Element Selection as Sampling Strategy in Zooarchaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science, 121.10.1016/j.jas.2020.105205
  • Littleton, J., Mcfarlane, G., & Allen, M. S. (2020). Human-animal entanglement and climate change: Multi-species approaches in Remote Oceania. In G. R. Shug (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Environmental Change (pp. 493-510). Routledge.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judith Littleton
  • Plank, M. J., Allen, M. S., Nims, R., & Ladefoged, T. N. (2018). Inferring fishing intensity from contemporary and archaeological size-frequency data. Journal of Archaeological Science, 93, 42-53. 10.1016/j.jas.2018.01.011
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Thegn Ladefoged
  • Greig, K., Boocock, J., Allen, M. S., Matisoo-Smith, E., & Walter, R. (2018). Ancient DNA Evidence for the Introduction and Dispersal of Dogs (Canis familiaris) in New Zealand. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 9 (1), 1-10. Related URL.
  • McAlister, A., & Allen, M. S. (2017). Basalt geochemistry reveals high frequency of prehistoric tool exchange in low hierarchy Marquesas Islands (Polynesia). PLoS ONE, 12 (12)10.1371/journal.pone.0188207
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Andrew McAlister
  • Allen, M. S. (2017). Spatial variability and human eco-dynamics in central East Polynesian fisheries. In U. Albarella, M. Rizzetto, H. Russ, K. Vickers, S. Viner-Daniels (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Zooarchaeology (pp. 739-756). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199686476.013.51


Contact details

Primary office location

2-6 PARK AVENUE - Bldg 529
Level 1, Room 103C
New Zealand

Web links