Position: Associate Professor and Director of the Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, University of Waikato.
Field: Radiocarbon dating.
Associate Professor Fiona Petchey is Director of the Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory based at the University of Waikato. Currently, her research is focused on the dating of bone and shell from sites in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific, specifically marine C-14 reservoir offsets and the influence of diet on human bone C-14. Fiona has a particular interest in using shell and bone artefacts to better refine the conversion of C-14 dates on marine samples to calendar years. Fiona’s research is underpinned by wanting to better understand the movement of ancient people around these areas and the environments in which they lived – particularly how environmental conditions may have influenced human movement.
If we were to just … to make predictions based on what people think is going to happen rather than actually looking back at the past and seeing what has happened, there’ll be things that we miss. So it is very important to look back at the past and see how we’ve dealt with it to stop us making the same mistakes againAssociate Professor Fiona Petchey
Fiona has been involved in dating some of the earliest known sites of human habitation across the Pacific and Aotearoa. She has contributed to a variety of research looking at how early people lived, where they lived and how they moved and spread out across the Pacific. In Ancestral Māori adapted quickly in the face of rapid climate change read about Fiona's contribution to research that has refined dates to give a precise timeline for the arrival and settlement of Māori ancestors into Aotearoa.
Fiona trained in archaeology and geology at the University of Auckland where she completed a master’s degree looking at Lapita ceramics from Samoa. Fiona obtained her PhD in radiocarbon dating at Waikato University.
Sometimes the past amazes us at how different it was and how resilient people were and how they came up with different ideas for different things.Associate Professor Fiona Petchey
In early 2021, Fiona was promoted to Associate Professor and Director of the Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory. The University of Waikato acknowledged her promotion with the following summary of her work: “Fiona’s research centres on the interpretation of radiocarbon dates of animals that uptake carbon from both marine and terrestrial sources. By investigating the interaction between natural ecosystems and human economies, she has tackled some of Pacific archeology’s most difficult chronological problems.”
In November 2021, Fiona and her team were awarded a Marsden Royal Society grant to research improving the reliability of dating marine shells from New Zealand archaeological contexts.
The following articles feature Fiona’s research:
- Radiocarbon calibration curves
- Refining dates for human habitation in the South Pacific
- Lapita cultural complex
Carbon-14 was used by Fiona to date artefacts of historical importance in archaeological digs.
Read about Fiona's contribution to new research that shows ancestral Māori adapted quickly in the face of rapid climate change.
Understand the difference between conventional radiocarbon dating and AMS in the video Comparing radiocarbon dating methods.
The activity Exploring Lapita pottery through observation and art is a cross-curricular activity that uses Lapita pottery as the context for enhancing scientific observation by recreating designs on paper or in clay.
Visit the Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory for more information about their research.
This article is based on information current in 2023.