Professor Alistair Paterson

Started at UWA: 1999

Multi-award winning archaeologist and researcher  

I love the process of discovery and bringing our research to the communities we work with to highlight WA’s history.Professor Alistair Paterson

Professor Alistair Paterson is an archaeologist, Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow and professor at the UWA School of Social Sciences. His research examines the historical archaeology of colonial coastal contact and settlement in Australia’s North West and the Indian Ocean. 

Professor Paterson’s key interests lie in Western Australian and Indian Ocean history, Aboriginal Australia, historical archaeology, the Dutch East India Company and its shipwrecks, colonialism and exploration, rock art, and the history of collecting in Western Australia. 

Originally from Tasmania, Professor Paterson completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne before starting work in eastern Turkey. He later travelled to Sydney, NSW, to complete a PhD on Central Australia before landing in Perth and UWA in 1999, where he set up a historical archaeology program. Since his arrival, Professor Paterson has been consumed by research prospects in Western Australia, heavily focused on situating the State in bigger stories of encounter, discovery, European colonisation and indigenous history. He is currently developing the research project ‘Collecting the West’ which looks at the history of WA’s collections, in partnership with the WA Museum, the WA Art Gallery, the State Library and British Museum. The output from ‘Collecting the West’ feeds into his Future Fellowship examining North West Australia through historical archaeology.

Professor Paterson collaborates with various heritage stakeholders including communities, government, and industry. Recent collaborations have been with Ngarluma Aboriginal people, Murujuga Rangers, Mineng Noongar community, the WA Museum, the State Library, Art Gallery WA, British Museum, BHP Iron Ore, and Rio Tinto. He is also part of the Oceans Institute and Centre for Rock Art Research and Management at UWA. 


  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Sydney (2000)
  • Bachelor of Arts Honours (BAHons), University of Melbourne (1992)

External positions

  • Chair of the Maritime Archaeology Advisory Committee, Western Australian Museum 

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Awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship (2016)

Awarded Australian Research Council (ARC) funding (2016)

Awarded Australian Research Council (ARC) funding (2014)


Despite Professor Paterson’s research-intensive workload, he teaches the following units of study at UWA. Professor Paterson relies heavily on his research to inform his teaching, providing his students with direct insight into WA-based archaeological discoveries and archaeology theory. He believes the best place to work with students is in the field, “the best classroom there is”. 


Projects and funding

  • Awarded ARC funding for Collecting the West: How collections created Western Australia with many fellow investigators (2016)
  • Awarded ARC funding for Shipwrecks of the Roaring Forties: A Maritime Archaeological Reassessment of some of Australia's Earliest Shipwrecks with the WA Museum, and researchers worldwide (2014)
  • Awarded ARC funding for Coastal Connections: dynamic societies of Australia’s Northwest frontier
  • Awarded ARC funding for Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming


Professor Paterson is the author of A Millennium of Cultural Contact (Left Coast, 2011), The Lost Legions: Culture Contact in Colonial Australia (Alta Mira, 2008) and editor with Jane Balme of Archaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analyses (2nd edition, Blackwell Publishing, 2013).

Supervisor opportunities

Professor Alistair Paterson has been a PhD supervisor at UWA since 2000. He currently supervises projects on:

  • Historical archaeology 
  • Maritime archaeology
  • Southeast Asia
  • Rock art
  • Archaeological methods

Related links

Contact Professor Alistair Paterson

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Research repository

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Research repository