Zenobia Jacobs

Associated researcher

University of Wollongong, Australia

Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health
Centre for Archaeological Science
Chief Investigator – ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage 2017 – 2024


ORCID ID: 0000-0001-5424-5837

Research Interests

My background and training is in Archaeology and the Earth Sciences. Over the past two decades I have helped pioneer technical developments in the dating of single grains of sand buried at geological and archaeological sites. I apply these improved physics-based tools to glean new clues to the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens and their interactions with other human groups around the world.

I am currently an ARC Future Fellow and professor in the Centre for Archaeological Science and the School of Earth of Environmental Sciences, as well as a chief investigator in the newly launched ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).

Key Publications


My greatest contribution to research is the development and use of individual grains of quartz as reliable ‘time capsules’ for optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of archaeological and geological sediments.

From the start of my research career, I have recognised the enormous, but unfulfilled, potential of single-grain dating to create a finely-resolved timeline for the key turning points in human evolution and Earth history. I have since generated high-resolution chronologies for archaeological sites in Africa, revealing new dimensions in the early history of Homo sapiens. These include the oldest archaeological evidence for fully modern human cognition and behaviour, and novel insights into the timing and probable causes of stone-age innovations in Africa and dispersals of early modern humans into Asia and their ultimate landfall in Australia.

I have also made contributions to other current and long-standing debates in the life and Earth sciences, including reconstructions of past environments in Africa, the use of ancient high sea-levels as analogues for future trends, stone-age innovations by Neanderthals in Europe, and studies of the ecological footprint of the first humans to reach Australia and Madagascar.

I arrived at UOW in 2006 to undertake a research fellowship, and today has a well-established research profile and is a Thompson-Reuters Highly Cited researcher. I have a strong record of
attracting national research grants, including an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship in which I am interrogating the enigmatic Denisovans found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. I have won a number of research awards over the years, including a l’Oreal For Women in Science fellowship, an ARC QEII research fellowship, the Sir Nicholas Shackleton
Medal from the International Union of Quaternary Research (INQUA), Scopus Young Researcher Award, and a Thomsen Reuters 2015 Citation Award.

Geographic Focus
Africa – Continent
Australasia – Transnational Region
Russian Federation – Country
South Africa – Country