The fieldwork focus of Stuart’s research over the last twenty years has been the islands of Vanuatu, in the southwestern Pacific. Research issues that have been addressed at both a local and regional level have included origins, timing and strategies of colonisation, settlement pattern, levels of social interaction, cultural transformation, environmental impact and human responses to natural disasters. Other areas of interest include the archaeologies of Empire, Colonialism and Contact.
His current research is focused (2013-2017) on an ARC funded project titled "Investigating monumentality in Melanesia: the archaeology of ritual architecture on the islands of Malakula, Vanuatu". The aim of this project is to inject renewed impetus into understanding general processes of social transformation in the wider Pacific. It focuses on the archaeology of monumental and ritual architecture, cultural manifestations long recognised as indispensable in identifying prehistoric sociopolitical change. The study will provide rare comparative data from the Melanesian region, namely the islands of Malakula in Vanuatu, which can then be assessed against the long-established models of socio-political change generated for much of Polynesia and to a lesser extent Micronesia. Contemporary concerns such as population growth, land and food security are also addressed. In 2016 Stuart will also be starting a new ARC funded project in Southern Vanuatu with colleagues James Flexner and Frederique Valentin.
From 2008-2012 his research (as an ARC QEII Fellow) research revolved around an ARC funded project titled “Persistence and transformation in Ancestral Oceanic Society: the archaeology of the first 1500 years in the Vanuatu archipelago”. It involved a series of large-area excavations conducted at a number of key Lapita and immediately Post-Lapita (dating to between 3000-1500 years ago) settlements and cemeteries across the archipelago over five years (2008-2012); see the ANH Current Projects page for more information. The aim was to examine the internal settlement layout and social structures of the initial colonising groups, and their transformations and/or persistence during the first 1500 years of settlement of Vanuatu. In this way archaeology will contribute to further elucidation of what has been labelled Ancestral Oceanic Society, from which much of the diversity in present-day Pacific Island cultures derives.