Research

The Department has consolidated its move towards rounded, ‘four-field’ approach to its disciplines, by combining archaeology with evolutionary, social and linguistic anthropology. This strategy has facilitated considerable change and renewal since 2008, with substantial turnover of staff, increased research income per FTE, and a growing output of research papers reaching top discovery journals of Science, Nature and PNAS. Informed by scientific analysis, much research concerns the effects of colonisation and ‘globalisation’. This has been a substantial reform following RAE2008, and extends to research-led teaching, as the Department launches a new BA degree in Anthropology in 2014. Now thriving on interdisciplinary study of human behavioural diversity, the department’s research integrates the four fields in particular instances of globalization and processes of evolution, past and present.

Recent grant successes include a 5-year ESRC grant to study Infectious Diseases in the Developing World, an EU-funded Network to research the transatlantic slave trade, multiple Marie Curie Fellowships, a Royal Society Newton Fellowship, and numerous smaller grants from English Heritage and foreign governments. This has added four postdoctoral researchers to the Department, and attracted visiting Professors from Mongolia (2011), Ethiopia (2013), and the USA (2014). Underlying our priority developmental areas for research is a shared interest in globalization and processes of cultural change. In our long view, we consider how the behavioural foundations of state-level subjugations might be elucidated by our research on prehistoric kinship and early resource inequality. Since 2011, Department staff published two papers in Science, one paper in Nature and four papers in PNAS. Other papers have recently appeared in Royal Society journals and in Antiquity. A cultural environment of aiming high now presides, along with an aim of open-access publishing.

A Department strength is an interdisciplinary approach that combines traditional field archaeology and anthropology with cutting-edge analysis of anthropological data by evolutionary methods or archaeological materials by isotopic methods [3,16,24,26] and micro-imaging. Field research in archaeology and anthropology takes place in the U.K. but also Ethiopia, Turkey, Jordan, Madagascar, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, France, Mongolia, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Peru, and the U.S.

Currently, major research themes include:

  1. Neolithic Europe, including the new 5-year, £2.2M ERC ‘NeoMilk’ grant, led by Professor Richard Evershed, to study Neolithic dairying.
  2. The effects of colonization and globalization, from prehistory to present, is a key element our research. Modern effects of globalisation are addressed by Dr Mhairi Gibson on the effects of modern farming technology in two regions of Ethiopia. Study of pre- and proto-history of globalization begins with the ERC Sea-links project to explore exchanges across the Indian Ocean (Professor Kate Robson Brown and Professor Mark Horton) and a related AHRC/NSF collaboration (with National University of Mongolia).
  3. Bristol’s role in the slave trade is the focus of EuroTAST, an EU-supported network to study the transatlantic slave trade, analysing the human remains of hundreds of African slaves buried on the island of St Helena. Influenced by this research activity, Bristol obtained a 3-year contract (2013-2015) with the Fulbright Commission to host a 4-week summer institute on "Slavery and the Atlantic Heritage."

  4. Conflict archaeology during the centenary of the First World War is a major research opportunity to be led by Dr Nick Saunders, who serves on the Council for British Archaeology’s steering group for a national project.
  5. Culture evolution, past and present. Department staff are leaders in the development of culture-evolutionary models and computer simulations that are tested on cross-cultural data, ranging from records of kinship and linguistic diversity of traditional societies worldwide to language use in 20th century books and texts mined from contemporary online media.
  6. Archaeological science. With an established record of isotopic research in archaeology, we are now building an archaeological science laboratory for biomolecular analysis of archaeological materials. New equipment includes a gas chromatograph (GC) for quantifying preserved components in archaeological samples, which enhances our collaboration with the School of Chemistry (where the spectrometry analysis is completed).