Key Info

  • Position Title
    Senior Principal Research Scientist
  • Section
    Anthropology Research
    Australian Museum Research Institute

Email Dr Robin Torrence


My archaeological research focuses on the roles of ancient material culture, especially stone tools, in peoples’ daily lives, social strategies, and long term adaptation. I have been especially interested in how the manufacture, design and exchange of tools can help people minimise risks. Throughout my career I have helped develop new methods for studying trade, stone tool use, and subsistence patterns. I have been fortunate to have participated in fieldwork in many parts of the world, but my major projects have been in Greece, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Russia.

My current research aims to understand changes in the nature of western Pacific societies over the past c. 50,000 years, since earliest colonization of the region. I am directing inter-disciplinary field and laboratory studies (archaeology, geology, volcanology, geomorphology, botany) to examine how people have interacted with the highly active volcanic environment in West New Britain province, Papua New Guinea. The research utilizes a wide range of approaches to reconstruct social landscapes, with particular emphasis placed on studying the production and exchange of obsidian artifacts, changes in land-use practices, and recolonisation following the relatively frequent disastrous volcanic events that occurred.

Currently, a major research interest is the study of how people have used objects now commonly found in ethnographic museum collections to negotiate social relationships with outsiders. I am working with scholars from the University of Sydney to reinvigorate collections from Central Province, Papua New Guinea. Our team is studying how changes in the manufacture, style, and form of these artefacts were actively used to structure social relations between local groups and European explorers, traders and government officials during the early history of the colony.

Research Projects

  • Ancient obsidian exchange in Far East Russia. See more
  • Tracing the diversity of stone tools assemblages in West New Britain, Papua New Guinea. See more
  • Impact of natural disasters on cultural change with special reference to West New Britain, Papua New Guinea. See more
  • Indigenous agency and museum collections. See more
  • Application of Raman spectroscopy to sourcing and identification of microscopic residues for obsidian stone tools. See more

    Field reports Papua New Guinea

Recent Publications


  • Byrne, S., Clarke, A., Harrison, R., Torrence, R. (eds) 2011. Unpacking the Collection: Networks of Material and Social Agency in the Museum. New York: Springer.
  • Specht, J. and Torrence, R. (eds) 2011. Changing Perspectives in Australian Archaeology. Technical Reports of the Australian Museum, Online 23.
  • Grattan, J. and Torrence, R. (eds) 2007. Living Under the Shadow: The Cultural Impacts of Volcanic Eruptions. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. Abstract


  • Torrence, R. and Clarke, A. 2011. “Suitable for decoration of halls and billiard rooms:” finding indigenous agency in historic auction and sale catalogues. In S. Bryne, A. Clarke, R. Harrison, R. Torrence, eds., Unpacking the Collection: Networks of Material and Social Agency in the Museum, pp. 29-53. New York: Springer. Abstract
  • McKee, Chris O., Neall, Vincent E. and Torrence, R. 2011. A remarkable pulse of largescale volcanism on New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. Bulletin of Volcanology 73: 27-37. Abstract
  • Kononenko, N., Torrence, R., Barton, H. and Hennell, A. 2010. Cross-cultural interaction on Wuvulu Island, Papua New Guinea: the perspective from use-wear and residue analyses of turtle bone artifacts. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2911-2919. Abstract
  • Kononenko, N., Specht, J. and Torrence, R. 2010. Persistent traditions in the face of natural disasters: stemmed and waisted stone tools in late Holocene New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Australian Archaeology 70: 17-28. Abstract
  • Jia, P., Doelman, T., Chen, Q., Zhao, H., Lin, S., Torrence, R. and Glascock, M. 2010. Moving Sources: a preliminary study of volcanic glass artefact distributions in Northeast China using PXRF. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 1670-1677. Abstract
  • Kelloway, S., Kononenko, N., Torrence, R. and Carter, E. 2010. Assessing the viability of portable Raman spectroscopy for determining the geological source of obsidian. Vibrational Spectroscopy 53: 88-96. Abstract
  • Doelman, T, Torrence, R., Kluyev, N., Sleptsov, I., Popov, V. 2009. Innovations in microblade core production at the Tigrovy-8 late Palaeolithic quarry in eastern Russia. Journal of Field Archaeology 34: 367-384. Abstract
  • Torrence, R, Neall, V. and Boyd, B. 2009. Volcanism and Historical Ecology on the Willaumez Peninsula, Papua New Guinea. Pacific Science 63: 507-535. Abstract
  • Carter, E. A., Hargreaves, M. D., Kononenko, N., Graham, I. Edwards, G. M., Swarbrick, B., Torrence, R. 2009. Raman spectroscopy applied to understanding prehistoric obsidian trade in the Pacific Region. Vibrational Spectroscopy 50: Abstract
  • Torrence, R., Swadling, P., Ambrose, W., Kononenko, N., Rath, P. and Glascock, M. 2009. Obsidian stemmed tools and Mid-Holocene interaction. Asian Perspectives 48: 118-147. Abstract
  • Parr, J., Boyd, W., Harriott, V. and Torrence, R. 2009. Human adaptive responses to catastrophic landscape disruptions during the Holocene at Numundo, PNG. Geographical Research 47(2): 155-174. Abstract
  • Kononenko, N. and Torrence, R. 2009. Tattooing in Melanesia: local invention or Lapita introduction? Antiquity 83. Article

    See full list of publications