The Department of Archaeology & Anthropology has an international ‘four-field’ approach, combining archaeology with evolutionary, social and linguistic anthropology. Our diverse researchers collaborate in a thriving interdisciplinary environment, with key strengths in understanding cultural, biological and social change: the spread of peoples, their ideas and artefacts.
Research in the Department ranges from the outdoors – landscape and maritime archaeology, and anthropological fieldwork – to the indoors, with laboratory-based science using radiocarbon dating, isotopic methods, and micro-imaging technology. A key strength is in the interdisciplinary study of human diversity, both biological and cultural. Our research spans a variety of time periods and global regions, from Ancient Egypt and the Classical World to the industrial heritage of the city of Bristol, from prehistoric migrations and connections across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the transformations of economic and religious life in contemporary societies. Field research in archaeology and anthropology takes place in the U.K. and also Ethiopia, Turkey, Jordan, Madagascar, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, France, Mongolia, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Peru, and the U.S.
Our research strengths are in three core areas – Adversity, Adaptation, and Globalisation – each of which speaks to major themes in archaeology and anthropology. Globalisation discovers how the movements of people, ideas, and artefacts articulate with continuity and change; Adversity addresses the resilience of humanity in the face of major challenges, past and present; and Adaptation explores the biological and cultural evolutionary processes that generate human diversity. These three themes allow articulation with other disciplines across the University, and encourage external partner collaborations. The intellectual inquiry that motivates these themes is charged by the desire to apply knowledge to issues of wellbeing, social identities, and cultural diversity, by using anthropology and archaeology as tools of the “long view” to understand the making and unmaking of shared human worlds. Cross-cutting these themes are major paradigm strengths in evolution, archaeological science, material culture, and fieldwork, and there are regional concentrations in European prehistory, the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, and East Africa.
From prehistory to the present, we hold a shared interest in understanding the cultural changes arising from the movements of people, ideas, and artefacts. Archaeological research shows how population movements create ideological, social and material exchange networks. Starting in the Neolithic, encounters in Europe (Heyd, Cramp), and Asia (Bentley) demonstrate the dynamic interactions of “locals and newcomers” and their effects on religion, ideology, foodways, and politics; similarly for Hodos’ work on globalisation in the first millennium BCE Mediterranean. Horton’s work as part of a large ERC-funded team investigates proto-globalisation in the Indian Ocean, and the Steppe Corridor northern Silk Route in Eurasia. Bristol and the West Country’s role in globalisation and colonial encounters is revealed in work on the trans-Atlantic slave trade (Robson Brown, Horton), and the development of Berkeley, Gloucester, and its castle as an urban and ecclesiastical centre from which early North American colonial links are drawn (Prior, Horton). We investigate how globalisation influences contemporary lives: livelihoods and migration in Ethiopia (Gibson); the impact of world religions on beliefs in Turkey (Shankland) and Islam in East Africa (Horton); and the spread of ideas in social and online networks (Bentley).
The challenges we face as individuals and societies allow archaeologists and anthropologists to focus on the multitude of ways in which humanity is expressed at crisis moments. With roots in Saunders’ long-term research programme in modern conflict archaeology and anthropology across Europe and the Middle East, our research on adversity and resilience addresses: slavery, particularly state-level colonial transgressions in the Caribbean and Africa (Horton, Robson Brown); identity expression during internment and confinement in wartime Europe (Brück, Saunders); the effects of stress and harmful practices on bodies, individuals, and communities (Robson Brown, Gibson); the dynamics of infectious disease, past and present, in the UK, Tanzania, and Cameroon (Bentley, Gibson, Robson Brown, Horton); and the alleviation of adversities: humanitarian interventions (Shankland) and development programmes in Ethiopia (Gibson).
Adaptation. To understand our species’ bio-cultural evolution, we conduct research investigating human diversity and its adaptive aspects. Staff research covers traditional palaeoanthropological studies of human evolution (Robson Brown); the behavioural ecology of reproduction, with novel applications of evolutionary approaches to demography (Gibson); and modelling the dynamics of social norms and cultural change, particularly kinship and language (Jordan, Bentley). We investigate how ecological change can drive cultural and biological variation both synchronically (Gibson, Jordan) and diachronically, with an archaeological focus on foodways and subsistence technologies in Neolithic Europe (Cramp, Heyd).
Straddling these themes are the common grounds obtained from our shared methodological and theoretical approaches.
Archaeological science. Scientific evidence for the shape of human societies in the past, including palaeodiet, past disease, and ancient human movement, can be examined through the study of human remains and artefacts. Bristol has an excellent reputation as a hub for archaeological science, and we aim to build on the foundations of collaborative research across Chemistry, Earth Sciences and our Department (Cramp, Heyd, Robson Brown), after recent investment in laboratory facilities for biomolecular analyses, CT scanning, micro-imaging, and isotope analysis, and the 2015 installation of the Bristol Radiocarbon Accelerator Mass Spectrometer.
Evolution. Research applies evolutionary theory to human behaviour and biology (Gibson, Jordan, Robson Brown), and evolutionary methods to understanding cultural change and diversity (Bentley, Jordan) in innovative ways. Research is empirical, hypothesis-driven, and frequently quantitative.
Material culture.The role of the material world in marking and mediating social relationships and cultural identities is a central element of staff research interests. Current projects focus on technological change (Brück), colonisation (Hodos), trade (Horton), consumption (Cramp) and conflict (Saunders). Much of this research is done in collaboration with major national and international museums.
Fieldwork.Field research creates our primary material, and staff share a strong commitment to empirical and ethnographic research that reveals the material evidence of the past, and the scope of behaviours and beliefs in communities across the globe. As a Department we also have strong interests in the cultural and social identities, past and present, of the Bristol area, and students have opportunities to participate in the many collaborative local research initiatives that the wider University and City provides.
Current Funded Projects
Current International Collaborations
Institutions we collaborate with include the BBC, Brunel Institute, Berkeley Castle, Bristol Museums & Art Galleries, and Historic England.