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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-second McDonald Annual Lecture will be given by Professor Professor Robert Foley (University of Cambridge) 

'The fourth handshake: selection, diversity and ecology in human evolutionary studies' 

at 5.00pm on Wednesday 11th November 


Please register via the following link:


Abstract: Human evolutionary studies today are remarkably multi-disciplinary. Yet, at their core lie a few central ideas and principles that have shaped both the way in which we approach the problem of human evolution scientifically, and the way we reconstruct it. These ideas and principles have a deep history, and Cambridge scientists have played an important role in their development into frameworks for interpreting the past. In this lecture, I will explore three such recurrent and persistent frameworks – selection, diversity and ecology –  and discuss how they remain central to the field, but also have changed as new data and methods have developed.  For much of the twentieth century, the focus has been on telling the human story as a narrative of change across time, but research in evolutionary biology more generally, as well as both empirical and technical advances in human evolutionary studies, have returned the focus to those classic frameworks - mechanisms of change (selection), the scale of variation (diversity), and the context in which evolution occurs (ecology). These ideas are surveyed in the context of key questions being asked about human evolution today - the role of Africa in shaping the hominin lineage, the nature of evolutionary diversity above, below and across the species boundary, and the adaptive drivers that made us human.


Biography Robert Foley is the Leverhulme Professor of Human Evolution Emeritus at the University of Cambridge, and a Life Fellow of King’s College. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2007, and was appointed a Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute in 2019. In 2001 he co-founded with Marta Mirazón Lahr the Wellcome Trust funded Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge. His research has focused on the evolution and ecology of humans, and on understanding humans in terms of more general and comparative models of Darwinian evolution. This has led to work on both early and later phases of human evolution, and explored such issues as the relationship between climate and evolution, coevolution among African mammals, social evolution in adaptive and phylogenetic contexts, and the development of phylogenetic approaches to technological and linguistic change. Work outside palaeobiology has included evolutionary psychology, landscape archaeology, genetic diversity and the evolution of stars. With Marta Mirazón Lahr he is currently involved in major field projects in northern and central Kenya. His books include Off-Site Archaeology, Another Unique Species, Humans before Humanity, and Principles of Human Evolution.


Recent McDonald Annual Lecture speakers

  • 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, Cambridge, The archaeology of climate/people interactions: science or story telling?
  • 2013: Christine Hastorf, Berkeley - Houses, food and distributed people in the later Prehistory of the Central Andes (AD1000-1500)