Dr. Shawn O’Donnell

Post-doctoral Research Fellow / SUNDASIA Project team member


Current Research

I currently lead the Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction work package on the SUNDASIA Project, alongside Hanoi-based collaborator Dr Nguyen Thi Mai Huong. My SUNDASIA research is exploring the vegetation history of the Tràng An World Heritage Area in Ninh Binh province, northern Vietnam, and how that history relates to the archaeological, geological and ecological records being compiled across this and other SUNDASIA work packages. My primary tool in this research is pollen analysis from sedimentary sequences. Together with Mai Huong, we have collected several sediment cores from marshy floors of dolines across the Tràng An limestone massif; extracted pollen from excavated archaeological contexts; performed vegetation surveys at a number of sites of project interest; collected and dried plant specimens for comparative reference collections and accessioned these into Vietnamese and UK herbaria; deployed a network of pollen traps to document modern pollen rain; analysed assemblages of pollen and associated microfossils from sedimentary sequences within cores and archaeological cave deposits; presented results at international conferences, and contributed to peer-reviewed publications and project reports.


  • SUNDASIA (2017-2020; PDRF): I have participated in five field seasons at Tràng An, each of three-weeks duration. Our November-December 2019 season included a three-day visit to the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project in Hai Phong province in order to make observations relating to what Tràng An may have experienced during the Mid-Holocene high-stand in sea level.
  • RBG Kew (2017; MSc): 13-day field module in Madagascar making botanical and mycological field collections.
  • University of Cambridge (2011-2013; PhD): Six months in total spent between field sites in the Kelabit Highlands of interior Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo and the Dewil Valley of northern Palawan Island, Philippines, collecting sediment cores, performing vegetation surveys and participating in archaeological excavations.
  • ANU (2009; MArch.Sc): Two-week programme of coring lake sediments from volcanic maars on the Atherton Tableland of Far North Queensland, Australia as part of a palaeoecological and archaeological project examining the dynamics of the rainforest-sclerophyll ecotone.
  • University of Melbourne (2008; PGDip): Two week-long stints on the Mount Buffalo plateau on NE Victoria, Australia collecting sediment cores and performing vegetation surveys as part of a palaeoecological study.


  • SUNDASIA: Human Adaptation to Coastal Evolution: Late Quaternary evidence from Southeast Asia. AHRC/GCRF (AH/N005902/1) & Xuan Truong Construction Enterprise. Principle Investigator: Dr Ryan Rabett, Queens University Belfast. Co Investigators: Dr Fiona Coward, University of Bournemouth, Dr. Tran Tan Van, Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources. Project webpage: www.sundasia.com


  • Pollen analysis; palaeoecology (tropical SE Asia)
  • SE Asian botany (generalist)
  • Environmental archaeology
  • Sedimentology; geomorphology (fluvial; coastal)


2020           S. O’Donnell, Nguyen T.M.H., C. Stimpson, R. Holmes, T. Kahlert, E. Hill, Vo. T. & R. Rabett. Holocene development and human use of mangroves and limestone forest at an ancient hong lagoon in the Tràng An karst, Ninh Binh, Vietnam. Quat. Sci. Rev. 242: 106416.

2019           C. Stimpson, B. Utting, S. O’Donnell, N.T.M. Huong, T. Kahlert, B.V. Manh, S.P. Khanh & R. Rabett. An 11 000-year-old giant muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis) sub-fossil from northern Vietnam: implications for past and present populations. R. Soc. Open Sci. 6(3): 181461. 18 pp.

2019           R. Rabett et al. Human adaptation to coastal evolution: Late Quaternary evidence from Southeast Asia (SUNDASIA) – A report on the second year of the project (Vietnam Archaeology).

2018           G. Barker, C. Hunt, E. Hill, S. Jones & S. O’Donnell. ‘Rice needs people to grow it’: foraging/farming transitions and food conceptualization in the highlands of Borneo. In: Lightfoot, E., Liu, X. & Fuller, D. (eds.) Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K. Jones. Cambridge (UK): McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Pp. 77-93.

2017           G. Barker, C. Hunt, H. Barton, L. Lloyd-Smith, C. Gosden, S. Jones & S. O’Donnell. The ‘cultured rainforests’ of Borneo. Quatern. Int. 448: 44-61.

2012           S. Haberle, C. Lentfer, S. O’Donnell, & T. Denham. The palaeoenvironments of Kuk Swamp since the beginnings of agriculture in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Quatern. Int. 249: 129-139.