Charles Frank Wandesforde Higham (born 1939) is a British-born New Zealand archaeologist most noted for his work in Southeast Asia. Among his noted contributions to archaeology are his work (including several documentaries) about the Angkor civilization in Cambodia, and his current work in Northeast Thailand. He is a research professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
Higham was educated at Raynes Park County Grammar School in South London. It was here that he developed an interest in archaeology after volunteering to excavate at the Bronze Age site of Snail Down and Arcy sur Cure in France. In 1957, he was offered a place at St Catharine's College, Cambridge to read archaeology and anthropology. However, being too young for National Service, he spent two years at the Institute of Archaeology, London University, specialising in the archaeology of the western Roman provinces under Sheppard Frere. His teachers included Sir Max Mallowan, the husband of Agatha Christie, and Dame Kathleen Kenyon. During his time at the Institute, he excavated at the Roman city of Verulamium, and the Iron Age site of Camp du Charlat in France. In 1959, he went up to Cambridge, and studied the Neolithic Bronze and Iron Ages of Europe. His contemporaries included Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, Sir Barry Cunliffe, Sir Paul Mellars and the Crown Princess of Denmark. He took a double first, was elected a Scholar of his college in 1960, and played for Cambridge University against Oxford in the University rugby matches of 1961-62.
He was provided with a State Scholarship in 1962, and embarked on his doctoral research on the prehistoric economic history of Switzerland and Denmark. In 1966 he was awarded his doctorate. During the course of his research he played rugby for Bedford, Eastern Counties and became an England triallist in 1963-64. In 1964, he married Polly Askew. They have two sons and two daughters.
Following the completion of his doctorate, Higham accepted a lectureship in archaeology at the University of Otago, and in December 1966 he moved to New Zealand with his family. In 1968, he was appointed the foundation professor of anthropology at the University of Otago. Following a visit to the University of Hawaii, he was invited by Professor W.G. Solheim II to undertake research in Thailand, and in 1969, he began his fieldwork with excavations in Roi Et and Khon Kaen Provinces. He joined Chester Gorman between 1972 and 1975 for excavations at Ban Chiang, Pang Mapha District's Banyan Valley Cave, and has subsequently excavated the sites of Ban Na Di (1981-82), Khok Phanom Di (1984-85), Nong Nor (1989-92), Ban Lum Khao (1995-96), Noen U-Loke (1999-2000), Ban Non Wat (2002-07) and Non Ban Jak (2011-17).
His research at the Bronze Age sites of Ban Non Wat has shown that the initial Bronze Age in this part of Southeast Asia began in the 11th century BCE. With his son, Thomas, professor of archaeological science at Oxford University, he has re-dated the site of Ban Chiang, showing that there too, contrary to claims from the University of Pennsylvania, bronze casting also began in the 11th century BCE. His current research involves excavations at the Iron Age site of Non Ban Jak. There, he has identified for the first time in Thailand, an extensive area comprising the residential quarter of an Iron Age town, complete with houses, a lane, an iron working area and several ceramic kilns. In conjunction with many colleagues, he has linked a period of increased aridity with the start of an agricultural revolution that stimulated the rise of early states. In July 2018, he was a co-author of a pioneering publication on ancient human prehistoric DNA from several sites in Southeast Asia. The result identified a series of population movements beginning with the arrival of anatomically modern humans over 50,000 years ago and involving at a later date, the expansion of rice farmers from the Yangtze Valley. He is now following this up, in conjunction with colleagues in Denmark, with the analysis of aDNA from his most recently excavated site at Non Ban Jak in Northeast Thailand.
Charles Higham is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, an Honorary Fellow of St. Catharine's College Cambridge, a former Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 2012, he was awarded the Grahame Clark Medal of distinguished research in archaeology by the British Academy. He was awarded the Mason Durie medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2014, the citation noting that he is New Zealand's premier social scientist. In the 2016 New Year Honours, Higham was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to archaeology.