Dr. Huffer fixing a mass-spectrometer, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, 2015

Damien Huffer


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Works at Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
Visiting address Wallenberglaboratoriet, Lilla Frescativägen 7
Room 122a
Postal address Institutionen för arkeologi och antikens kultur 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Since April 2017, I have been a postdoctoral fellow funded by the Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology & Classical Studies. I defended my dissertation, entitled The Ties that Bind: Population Dynamics, Mobility and Kinship during the mid-Holocene in Northern Vietnam, in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. This work was carried out under the guidance of Dr. Marc Oxenham, Prof. Peter Bellwood, and Dr. Richard Armstrong (Research School of Earth Sciences). 

This research examined intra-cemetery kinship patterns (via cranial and dental non-metric trait expression), childhood residence (via strontium isotope ratios), and lifetime mobility/activity (via enthesial variation and long-bone cross-sectional geometry), for two prehistoric skeletal assemblages from northern Vietnam. It continues to be among the few studies investigating these aspects of ancient life in Southeast Asia. I received my MA (2005) from ANU and my BA (2003) from the University of Arizona, and have conducted field or laboratory work in the US Southwest, Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Polynesia.

After completing my doctorate and working in archaeological consulting around Sydney, Australia, I was awarded the Stable Isotope Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute/Division of Anthropology, from 2014-2016. This work involved conducting carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotope analyses on bone and enamel from six prehistoric or ancient historic human skeletal assemblages (c. 5,300 - 500 BP) from Jordan and Bahrain.

The isotopic data, together with age, sex, and MNI (minimum number of individuals) analysis, is used to answer questions relating to how diet or community organization varied over time in light of cultural change, shifting trade networks, and the underlying  stressors of survival in marginal desert environments. This work was done in collaboration with Drs. Christine France and Bruno Frohlich (Smithsonian) and Dr. Richard Ash (U. Maryland College Park, dept. of Geology) and publication is ongoing.

From approximately 2011 onwards I have also been actively involved in collaborative research concerning the global and Southeast Asian antiquities trade, and most recently, human remains trafficking. This research forms the core of my current project (below), and I am passionate about helping to raise public awareness of the existence and complexities of this ongoing threat to humanity's shared heritage.    

Research Interests

  • Human bioarchaeology, especially biodistance analysis, kinship, stable and radiogenic isotope analysis and biomechanics. 
  • Antiquities trafficking and the human remains trade
  • Public archaeology and educational gaming
  • Cultural property/heritage law
  • Social media studies, data mining and the application of neural network analysis and machine learning to the study of illicit networks.  

Current project

You Can Buy That?!: Understanding Supply, Demand and Authenticity in the Human Remains Trade Using Data Mining and Archaeological Science.  This project continues ongoing collaborative efforts to apply neural network analysis and machine learning to the study of the online human remains trade on e-commerce and social media platforms, beyond eBay and auction houses. This component of the project makes use of large, updatable image, text, and metadata datasets to identify and define the underlying 'grammar' and 'rhetoric' that the human remains collecting and dealing community uses to advertise, sell, and negate ethical and legal concerns raised by the trade itself.

It also aims to better understand Colonial-era manufacture and collecting of two highly sought (and sometimes forged) categories of ethnographic human remains; Dayak and Asmat "trophy skulls." Conducting bioarchaeological analyses (demographics, pathology, biodistance, and pilot-level strontium and lead isotope analysis) on diverse museum collections, it investigates the life history and probably sub-population affiliations of head-hunting victims themselves, information often sparce or absent in the ethnographic record. The data produced by both components of the project will form a useful baseline for Customs agents, curators and Indigenous representatives to better evaluate future seizures of human remains in transit.

Last updated: September 8, 2019

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