Shimona Kealy

CHL student of the week: Shimona Kealy

19th April 2018

Shimona Kealy is an intrepid researcher fascinated by the deep past.

She is currently a PhD candidate in the Archaeology and Natural History Program in the School of Culture, History and Language.

‘I’m doing my PhD under Sue O’Connor’s laureate project which is looking at how humans got from Southeast Asia to Australia. We’re doing lots of survey work and archaeological exploration in Indonesia and Timor-Leste,’ she explains.

Shimona’s PhD project reconstructs how the islands would have looked 65,000-45,000 years ago to understand how visible they would have been from each other during the period of human colonisation. She also examines how animals moved through the islands, which provides an indication of how humans could have done so as well.

She says that fieldwork is one of the best parts about doing a PhD in palaeontology and archaeology. ‘It’s basically why I signed up for the whole thing—to do the fieldwork, to go to Indonesia and places where not much research had been done.’

Shimona’s fieldwork involves surveying islands for potential sites, and then coming back with a larger team to excavate them. The surveying trips involve hiking up mountains and riding motorbikes around rugged Indonesian islands with one of her supervisors, Dr Julien Louys. They stay with local families and work with community leaders to identify possible sites.

‘We found one island that is amazing, it’s really tiny and we found more stuff there than everywhere else combined. We don’t really know why, it’s just this amazing place with hundreds of archaeological sites,’ she says.

Shimona explains that Honours students from Yogyakarta’s Universitas Gadjah Mada join the ANU team on excavations. The students act as translators in exchange for mentorship and archaeological training. Representatives from local government bodies also come along.

‘I really like the excavations because it’s a big group of people and that usually means that you go into the village and do a big negotiation and you employ some of the local people, and it’s all a big production which is quite fun,’ she says.

In January, Shimona became a media star following the publication of a ground-breaking article with her honours supervisor, Dr Robin Beck from the University of Salford. The research found that climate cooling had correlated with the decline of Tasmanian Tiger populations and an increase in Tasmanian Devils.

‘The focus of the project was originally looking at trying to define the classifications of these different animals. Then we did this last minute analysis out of curiosity, and it came up with this amazing correlation. We thought it was really cool, and someone suggested that we tell the media. And then it just blew up like crazy!’

Shimona’s experiences show that a PhD can provide a range of exciting opportunities. She encourages potential PhD candidates to be proactive and reach out to academics to discuss their research interests.

‘Don’t be shy. If you want to do a PhD, even if you don’t have a whole project planned out, send emails to people and ask.’

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster