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Department of Archaeology


The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research hosts a keynote Annual Lecture delivered by eminent, international scholars on a wide range of archaeological research which crosses continents, periods and approaches in its exploration of the diversity of the human past.


The Thirty-fifth McDonald Annual Lecture was given by Professor David Wengrow, (University College London)

What might an archaeology of freedom look like?*

at 5.00pm on Wednesday 22nd November

The Wolfson Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry




In The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and I describe three basic forms of human freedom: to move away, to disobey, and to transform the social order. Far from being a special achievement of Western civilization, we argue, these freedoms were available to a great many societies across the span of human history, extending back into our species’ prehistoric past. Today, these same freedoms have been largely erased from the lives of most people, such that it is difficult for us now to even imagine what it might mean to live in a world based on such principles. My lecture will consider the challenge of recovering and visualising these forms of freedom in the archaeological record, as an antidote to teleological understandings of social evolution.



David Wengrow is Professor of Comparative Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL) and has been a visiting professor at New York University, the University of Auckland, and the University of Freiburg. In 2023 he was awarded the Albertus Magnus Professorship by the University of Cologne. David has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of three books including The Archaeology of Early Egypt and What Makes Civilization?, and co-author of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, an international bestseller and finalist for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing in 2022.


* Please be aware that a photographer and filming team from or commissioned by the University of Cambridge took photographs and film of the Annual Lecture. The photographs and films may be published, transmitted or broadcast in official University publications and in University publicity materials included in University and others’ websites and social media.
Recent McDonald Annual Lecture speakers:
  • 2022: Professor Amy Bogaard (University of Oxford) - Prehistoric farming futures? Recent insights from western Asia and Europe
  • 2021: Professor Alison Wylie (University of British Columbia) - Bearing Witness: Collaborative Archaeology in a Settler Colonial Context
  • 2020: Professor Robert Foley (University of Cambridge) - The fourth handshake: selection, diversity and ecology in human evolutionary studies
  • 2019: Professor Shadreck Chirikure  (University of Cape Town, University of Oxford) - The Political Economy of Precolonial African States - Metals, Trinkets, Land, etc, etc
  • 2018: Professor Roberta Gilchrist (University of Reading) - The Medieval Ritual Landscape: Archaeology and Folk Religion
  • 2017: Jean-Jacques Hublin, (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig) - Modern Human Origins: In Search of a Garden of Eden
  • 2016: Eske Willerslev, (University of Cambridge and University of Copenhagen) - Human migration and mega faunal extinctions
  • 2015: Norman Yoffee (University of Michigan, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University) - Counternarratives of Early States in Mesopotamia (and Elsewhere)
  • 2014: Graeme Barker, (University of Cambridge) - The archaeology of climate/people interactions: science or story telling?
  • 2013: Christine Hastorf (University of Berkeley) - Houses, food and distributed people in the later Prehistory of the Central Andes (AD1000-1500)