Dr Rebecca Hamilton

Dr Rebecca Hamilton

Department of Archaeology

Main Focus

Rebecca is a palaeoecologist with an interest in using palynological (pollen and charcoal), geochemical and sedimentological techniques to investigate how ecosystems respond to various drivers of change (notably climate, fire, and shifting landuse). She has worked in a range of tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate forest systems in south-east Asia (Sunda, Wallacea and the Philippine archipelago) and Australia to reconstruct environmental change over timescales ranging from decades to tens-of-thousands of years. She strives to contribute to the conservation of resilient socio-ecological systems in a changing world.

Curriculum Vitae

Rebecca completed her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of Sydney 2017. Her thesis used palaeoenvironmental techniques to examine the long-term impact of climate and fire on the resilience of south-east Asian tropical monsoon forests over thousands of years. The results of the project feed into a broader examination of how biogeographic factors and human disturbance can contribute to the long-term stability of sub-tropical forest ecosystems.

Between 2017 and 2019, Rebecca worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian National University on an Australian Research Council funded project ‘The pace and rhythm of climate: 600,000 years in biological hotspot’ under CI J. Stevenson. Her research focused on using pollen and charcoal analysis to reconstruct the floristic and fire history of Sulawesi’s lowland tropical rainforest over a million years. This work presents the longest terrestrial record of forest-fire dynamics from insular south-east Asia, and, along with complimentary research stemming from the ICDP-funded Towuti Drilling Project (lead by J. Russell) reveals the response of the Indo-Pacific-Warm-Pool to global climate change.

In 2019, Rebecca was awarded the Merewether Fellowship at the State Library of NSW (Australia). This project – ‘Conservation mapping: a case study of Sydney’s 19th century water reserves’ – marries historical and palaeoecological data to determine the actual history of remnant freshwater wetlands within Sydney’s urban core that are protected on the basis of their representing the pre-European landscape.  The results of this work contribute to a broader body of work challenging the notion that ecosystems can be protected on the basis of their “naturalness” – a common target used in the Western Hemisphere and Oceania.

Rebecca’s current work forms of part of the ‘PANTROPOCENE’ research group within the Department of Archaeology (lead by P. Roberts). Her role focuses on multi-proxy, palaeoenvironmental analysis of sediment cores collected from the Philippine Archipelago to examine the degree to which combined pre-colonial/ colonial disturbance impacted the structure and composition of tropical rainforest in the bounds of the former Spanish Empire.


Hamilton, R., Penny, D. & Hall, T. L. 2020. Forest, fire & monsoon: investigating the long-term threshold dynamics of south-east Asia’s seasonally dry tropical forests. Quaternary Science Reviews 238 10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106334

Hamilton, R. and Stevenson, J. 2020. The challenge of the cryptic tricolporate tropical pollen type: A case study from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. 273:104146. 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2019.104146

Hamilton, R., Stevenson, J. Li, B. & Bijaksana, S. 2019. A 16,000-year record of coupled climate-vegetation change from Wallacean lowland tropical forests. Quaternary Science Reviews. 224:105929 10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.105929

Hamilton, R., Penny, D. & Hua, Q. 2019. A 4700-year record of hydroclimate variability over the Asian monsoon intersection zone inferred from multi-proxy analysis of lake sediments. Global and Planetary Change. 174:92-104. 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2018.12.009

Hamilton, R., Hall, T., Stevenson, J. & Penny, D., 2019. Distinguishing the pollen of Dipterocarpaceae from the seasonally dry, and moist tropics of south-east Asia using light microscopy. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. 263, 117-133. 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2019.01.012

Hall, T., Penny, D. & Hamilton, R. 2019. The environmental context of a city in decline: The vegetation history of a Khmer peripheral settlement during the Angkor period. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 24: 152-165. 10.1016/j.jasrep.2019.01.006

Hamilton, R., Brussel, T., Asena, Q. et al. 2018. Assessing the links between resilience, disturbance and functional traits in paleoecological datasets, PAGES Magazine26: 87. 10.22498/pages.26.2.87

Hall, T, Penny, D & Hamilton, R. 2018. Re-evaluating the occupation history of Koh Ker, Cambodia, during the Angkor period: A palaeo-ecological approach. PLOS ONE. 13: 1-25. 10.1371/journal.pone.0203962

Hamilton, R. and Penny, D. 2015. Ecological history of Lachlan Nature Reserve, Centennial Park, Sydney, Australia: A palaeoecological approach to conservation. Environmental Conservation. 42: 84-94. 10.1017/s0376892914000083

Birtles, P.J., Hore, J., Dean, M., Hamilton, R., Dahlenburg, J., Moore, J., and Bailey, M. 2013. Creating a Liveable City – The role of ecosystem services. Conference Proceedings: State of Australian Cities, Sydney, Australia 10.13140/2.1.4643.6167 

Media Articles

Hamilton, R., Penny, D., Gillespie, J. & Ingrey, S. 2020. Buried under colonial concrete, Botany Bay has even been robbed of its botany. The Conversation. 24th April, 2020.  https://theconversation.com/buried-under-colonial-concrete-botany-bay-has-even-been-robbed-of-its-botany-135315

Research Projects

  • PANTROPOCENE - finding Finding a Pre-industrial, Pan-tropical ‘Anthropocene' (ERC funded). Role: postdoctoral researcher under Dr. P. Roberts (PI). 
  • Conservation mapping: a case study of Sydney's 19th century water reserves (State Library of NSW funded) Role: 2019 Merewether Fellow.
  • The pace and rhythm of climate: 600,000 years in biological hotspot. (ARC/ICDP funded). Role: former postdoctoral researcher under PI A/Prof J. Stevenson (ICDP CI Prof J Russell)

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