We divide our research into four streams, each with its own direction and dynamic, and all overlapping in productive ways. These integrative streams cross-cut our Research areas. Integration happens, for example, within Research projects, many of which contribute to multiple streams, in our seminar series and in other research events in Oxford and beyond or online. This integrative, interdisciplinary conversation informs our teaching, from the undergraduate Archaeology and Anthropology degree to our Master’s courses and postgraduate research supervision. A commitment to public engagement in research is a feature of all four streams.
In this stream we explore how human evolution in its broadest sense shaped and was shaped by other species and the landscape. Current research contributes to rethinking the long-term history of hominin species in Africa and beyond, fostered too by new fieldwork discoveries. Complementary work on chronology within the School investigates the relationship between long-term continuous change and episodic, large-scale events, like major volcanic eruptions. This stream also encompasses research into domestication relationships as varied, ongoing processes of symbiosis among humans and other species. Such broad questions lead to theoretical considerations of the how to think about the nature of evolution and the balance between competition and cooperation in long-term processes.
Work within the ‘ecological relations’ stream reveals the complexity and diversity of human ecologies, overturning older notions of convergent, linear pathways of development and opening up Archaeology’s potential to inform contemporary ecological debates surrounding climate change and food security. We are rethinking the so-called invention of farming and subsequent agricultural ‘revolutions’ to reveal long-term processes of continuity and change. Equally, work on individual species such as the dog, pig, horse, donkey and chicken offer privileged insights into global history. ‘Big data’ approaches allow us to gather large-scale archaeological datasets, analysed using novel methods, to understand changing ecologies, political structures and settlement patterns over the long term. We also use and interrogate the notion of landscape as a means of understanding relations between people and ecologies.
Work in this stream explores how structures of power are variously sustained and broken down through flows of materials. We have for example developed novel approaches to the nature of human intelligence, now to be understood as the mutual engagement of human bodies and material culture. Metalwork has proven particularly suitable for framing the interaction of people and materials, and novel modes of chemical analysis have been developed to understand the flows and recycling of metals such as bronze over millennia, revealing broad connections as well as distinct regional relations with metals. We investigate expressive culture across the Mediterranean and Chinese worlds, for example, and are developing new insights into political economy and heritage on the basis of southern African philosophies. The Roman empire produced levels of material culture not seen again in Europe until the start of the modern period. Bursts in production are now registering in environmental records, with implications for our understanding of long-term environmental degradation and climate change.
The shaping of class, gender, sexuality and emotion through material culture is examined through rich material records from the classical, medieval and modern periods. Large-scale contemporary problems can benefit from an archaeological perspective on material relations. We carry out contemporary archaeological work in collaboration with refugees and homeless groups to understand how they use materials to create ways of life in camps and temporary accommodation that are not only liveable, but allow people to cope with emotional trauma. Collaborative work with indigenous groups calls on the skills of archaeologists, from central America and the Bahamas to north-east Africa and the Kenyan cattle complex. Uncovering the colonial histories of museum collection, and forging paths to their decolonisation, has been brought to the fore nationally and internationally.
Archaeology at Oxford contributes to the creativity and sustainability of the discipline by developing innovative methods and modes of analysis: the ‘backbone’ of our research efforts. Innovations in method range from new chronological techniques improving the time depth and resolution of temporal frameworks, to new ways of charting the ecology of farming systems, from Neolithic ‘gardens’ to medieval open fields.
Our projects have created key databases for wider research, including the long-term collation of radiocarbon dates and isotopes and information on the Roman economy. We aim not only to make databases available, but also tools for their analysis. Such stores of data and analytical tools feed into the research process, but also enable citizen science. In sum, work within the ‘analytical methods and data science’ stream provides vital scaffolding for research in all of the other streams.