Thomas Higham

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Thomas Higham is an archaeological scientist and radiocarbon dating specialist. He is Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Oxford, UK, best known for his work in dating the Neanderthal extinction and the arrival of modern humans in Europe.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Higham grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand, the eldest of four children of Polly and Charles Higham; his father is an archaeologist specialising in the prehistory of southeast Asia. He studied Archaeology at the University of Otago, receiving a BA Honours degree in 1988 and a Masters degree in 1990. Higham became interested in radiocarbon dating and moved to the University of Waikato where, in 1993, obtained a doctorate degree.[2][additional citation(s) needed]

Career and research[edit]

Higham worked as the Deputy Director of the radiocarbon dating laboratory at Waikato, before joining the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, at the University of Oxford in 2001. He is currently the Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU) and a Fellow of Keble College.[3]

Higham's work focuses on the development and reliable application of radiocarbon dating in archaeology. His main interests lie in the refinement of the protocols used for the purification of ancient samples prior to radiocarbon dating. His early work focused on the peopling of New Zealand.[4][5] Upon arrival in Oxford, Higham became involved in testing and improving the ultrafiltration method for dating archaeological bones.[6]

In 2002, Higham met British archaeologist Roger Jacobi and the two worked closely together on the dating of several key Palaeolithic sites from the British Isles,[7][8] until Jacobi's death in 2009. The most notable result of this work was the redating of the Red Lady of Paviland,[9] an iconic early modern human from Britain. Later, Higham reported an age estimate for the Kents Cavern maxilla from Devon, England, the earliest modern human fossil in northwestern Europe.[10]

Since 2006, Higham and his team at Oxford have worked on defining the timing of Neanderthal replacement by anatomically modern humans in western Eurasia and quantifying the overlap between the two human groups. In 2014, results of this work reported in Nature placed Neanderthal extinction at around 41000–39000 years ago, and suggested a Neanderthal-modern human overlap of 3000–5000 years in Europe.[11] In 2013, funded by the European Research Council, Higham launched the "PalaeoChron" Project that focuses on the dating of late Neanderthals, early modern humans and Denisovans at hundreds of sites across northern Eurasia.[12][13]

Higham has featured in CNN's series Finding Jesus.[14]

In 2018, Higham was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.[15]


  1. ^ Callaway, Ewen (2012). "Date with history". Nature. 485 (7396): 27–29. doi:10.1038/485027a. PMID 22552075.
  2. ^ Higham, Thomas (1993). Radiocarbon dating the prehistory of New Zealand (Unpublished PhD thesis). University of Waikato.
  3. ^ "Professor Tom Higham". Keble College. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  4. ^ Wilmshurst, JM; Anderson, AJ; Higham, TFG; Worthy, TH (2008). "Dating the late prehistoric dispersal of Polynesians to New Zealand using the commensal Pacific rat". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (22): 7676–7680. doi:10.1073/pnas.0801507105. PMC 2409139. PMID 18523023.
  5. ^ Hogg, AG; Higham, TFG; Lowe, DJ; Palmer, JG; Reimer, PJ; Newnham, RM (2003). "A wiggle-match date for Polynesian settlement of New Zealand". Antiquity. 27 (295): 116–125. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00061408. hdl:10289/5248.
  6. ^ Bronk Ramsey, Christopher; Higham, Thomas; Bowles, Angela; Hedges, Robert (2004). "Improvements to the pretreatment of bone at Oxford". Radiocarbon. 46 (1): 155–163. doi:10.1017/S0033822200039473.
  7. ^ Jacobi, RM; Higham, TFG; Bronk Ramsey, C (2006). "AMS radiocarbon dating of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic bone in the British Isles: improved reliability using ultrafiltration". Journal of Quaternary Science. 21 (5): 557–573. doi:10.1002/jqs.1037.
  8. ^ Higham, TFG; Jacobi, RM; Bronk Ramsey, C (2006). "AMS Radiocarbon Dating of Ancient Bone Using Ultrafiltration". Radiocarbon. 48 (2): 179–195. doi:10.1017/S0033822200066388.
  9. ^ Jacobi, RM; Higham, TFG (2008). "The 'Red Lady' ages gracefully: new ultrafiltration AMS determinations from Paviland". Journal of Human Evolution. 55 (5): 898–907. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.08.007. PMID 18929395.
  10. ^ Higham, T; et al. (2011). "The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe". Nature. 479 (7374): 521–4. doi:10.1038/nature10484. PMID 22048314.
  11. ^ Higham, TFG; et al. (2014). "The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance". Nature. 512 (7514): 306–309. doi:10.1038/nature13621. PMID 25143113.
  12. ^ "PalaeoChron Project". PalaeoChron Project.
  13. ^ Henriques, Martha (6 September 2017). "Vindija Cave wasn't where humans and Neanderthals had their fling after all". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  14. ^ Silva-Velazquez, Yuri (26 April 2017). "Relics researchers feature in new CNN series". Keble College. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  15. ^ "Centenary cohort of Fellows announced". Royal Society of New Zealand. 1 November 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.