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Contact Details

+64 3 479 6827
Professor of Biological Anthropology and Dean
Department of Anatomy
BA(Berkeley) PhD(Auck)
Research summary
Biological anthropology and human genetic variation in ancient and modern populations
Biological athropology, human variation, molecular anthropology, human evolution, ancient DNA
  • Fellow, Royal Society of New Zealand
  • Fellow, Society of Antiquaries, London
  • Director, Allan Wilson at Otago Research Theme


The Matisoo-Smith lab focuses primarily on identifying the origins of Pacific peoples and their commensal plants and animals in order to better understand the settlement, history and prehistory of the Pacific and New Zealand. They utilize both ancient and modern DNA methods to answer a range of anthropological questions regarding population histories, dispersals and interactions.

The Matisoo-Smith team is working on a range of projects funded by a variety of organizations, but the overarching research theme of the lab and the research group is Molecular Anthropology and Ancient DNA analyses. They have a purpose built, state-of-the-art ancient DNA laboratory, located in the University of Otago Richardson Building, as well as a fully equipped modern DNA lab in the University's Lindo Ferguson Building.

Major projects include:

  • A genomic study of the people of Wairau Bar: health, history and origins of the first New Zealanders
  • Africa to Aotearoa: A genetic ancestry study of New Zealanders
  • National Geographic's Genographic Project – Pacific Region PI
  • Allan Wilson at Otago: A Research Theme in Human Evolutionary Genomics
  • Evidence for Polynesian contact in South America: Redrawing the Polynesian Triangle
  • Following the Phoenicians – Using ancient DNA to track Phoenician settlement in the Mediterranean


Matisoo-Smith, E. (2024). Em i tisa blong mi: On the value of community engagement in research. In A. Ford, B. Shaw & D. Gaffney (Eds.), Forty years in the south seas: Archaeological perspectives on the human history of Papua New Guinea and the Western Pacific region. (pp. 33-47). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press. doi: 10.22459/TA57.2024 Chapter in Book - Research

van Os, M., Cross, H., Kardailsky, O., Jeunen, G.-J., Collins, C., McDonald, K., Kinaston, R., Vlok, M., Walter, R., Cook, G., Aung, H. L., Matisoo-Smith, L., Buckley, H., & Knapp, M. (2023). The conundrum of related taxa: Detection and authentication of pathogen DNA in bioarchaeological samples from the Pacific. Proceedings of the 1st Australian & New Zealand Environmental DNA (eDNA) Conference: Innovation & Application. Retrieved from Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

Matisoo-Smith, L. (2023, February). Ancient DNA and migration. Migration: Past and Present. University of the Third Age, Dunedin, New Zealand. [Research Presentation]. Other Research Output

Kowal, E., Weyrich, L. S., Argüelles, J. M., Bader, A. C., Colwell, C., Cortez, A. D., … Matisoo-Smith, E., … Tsosie, K. S. (2023). Community partnerships are fundamental to ethical ancient DNA research. Human Genetics & Genomic Advances, 4, 100161. doi: 10.1016/j.xhgg.2022.100161 Journal - Research Other

Zalloua, P., Elias, N., Senovska, A., Collins, C., Gosling, A., Karam, S., … Matisoo-Smith, E. (2023). Ancient DNA investigation of the 17 Maronite patriarchs of Qanubin. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 60, 108-113. doi: 10.1016/j.culher.2022.12.006 Journal - Research Other

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