Overview & Themes
The Department Archaeology seeks to use the latest methods in archaeological science to transform our understanding of the human past. Combining traditional field research with cutting-edge laboratory analysis, our work shows how culture, biology and ecology have interacted throughout human history to make us who we are today, and gives us insights into how to prepare for the future. Working across the traditional divide between the humanities and natural sciences, we seek to tell a more holistic story of the emergence, development, and diversification of our species.
Archaeology offers a unique vantage point from which to view the most urgent questions facing humanity such as climate change, migration, globalization and the varied aspects and consequences of human engagement with our planet’s ecosystems.
The Department Archaeology is undertaking ambitious field projects in key regions internationally, conducting field survey and excavation through application of the latest methods in remote sensing, terrain and hydrology modelling, GIS, digital recording, chronometric dating, and geoarchaeology. Our research takes us from deserts to rainforests, with a particular focus on parts of the world where multidisciplinary archaeological research has, to date, been less systematically applied, including vast swathes of Africa and Asia.
We also undertake state-of-the-art laboratory studies in a range of areas, including archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, geoarchaeology, and human osteoarchaeology. We apply a diverse suite of established and evolving methods, including isotope analysis, artefact and dental use wear studies, 3-D morphometric analysis, phytolith and starch studies, and dental calculus analysis
Our network of collaborations extends globally, and includes partnerships with institutions and local communities around the world. Field training, local capacity building, and scholarly exchanges are also fundamental to our activities.
The research of the department broadly addresses the following themes:
Biological and cultural diversity: The diversity in human society today is the result of thousands of years of population dispersal, migration, and mixing. Cross-disciplinary research into this process - through archaeology, molecular genetics and linguistics - is providing major new insights. This work can inform not only our understanding of the history of biological and cultural diversity, but also our political discussion of its consequences. The department continues this research, exploring the role of human mobility, migration and intermixing in weaving the complex tapestry of human diversity in our society today.
The Anthropocene: Human modification of ecosystems is today occurring on an unprecedented scale. But the anthropogenic alteration of ecosystems is not new. Archaeological research over the past decades has revealed previously unappreciated instances of ancient ecological transformation. This has implications for how we understand and conserve ecosystems today, necessitating broader engagement with scientists and policy-makers. The department is working closely with colleagues in the environmental sciences to understand how humans have altered environments on different temporal and spatial scales, reshaping species distributions, altering landscapes and creating novel ecosystems.
Climate and society: The interplay between climatic change and the transformation of human societies is a major focus of research in the 21st century, reflecting increasing concern with the impact of current alterations to global climate. Palaeoenvironmental and archaeological records offer long-term perspectives on the tempo and spatial scale of climate change in different ecosystems, revealing the environmental, evolutionary and human impacts of climate change over many millennia. The department is exploring the relationship between processes of climatic, evolutionary and cultural change, drawing on unique global records from the hyper-arid to hyper-humid regions of Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.
Globalisation: As globalisation drives societies to ever-greater levels of economic and social integration, it also creates the conditions for cultural disruption, social conflict, and ecological and economic collapse. Understanding and mediating the impacts of globalisation today necessitates an understanding of its long-term history and origins in ancient wide-ranging networks of interaction, trade, exchange and migration. These proto-globalised networks transformed societies in fundamental ways, and created the basis for the cosmopolitan and diverse societies of today. The department draws on new methods to explore the globalising processes of the ancient world, seeking to understand the development of the long-distance connections that have created shared arenas of interaction, hybridisation, exchange, conflict and ecological transformation today.