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Department of Archaeology


Cooperation is a markedly human mix of innate and learned behaviour, and a key to tackling some of our greatest concerns. Paradoxically, studies of social dynamics often focus on hierarchies, state formation and political structures ruled by coercive power, with comparatively little regard to the mechanisms whereby humans voluntarily collaborate. Encouragingly, new research on collective action is reconciling classic anthropology with game theory and empirical studies of group resource management, thus heralding a fundamental transformation.

Archaeological collective action studies have mostly concentrated on subsistence and relatively simple technologies. There is a perplexing lack of research on cooperative production of luxury items, i.e. those materialising exceptional investment in materials, skill and/or labour, and not geared towards subsistence. Evidence for goldwork, polychrome textile-making and lapidary work in stateless societies provides compelling proof that complex technologies could be sustained in the absence of coercive powers, but explanations are lacking.

How can complex technological systems be sustained in the absence of coercive political administrations? To address this question, REVERSEACTION will deploy archaeological science methods to the reverse engineering of archaeological artefacts made of multiple materials, combined with environmental studies, and fostering exploratory collaborations with anthropology, sociology, management studies and crafts.

A key focus will be placed on stateless societies of Pre-Hispanic Colombia which offer a wealth of relevant materials, including goldwork, ceramics, lithics and textiles. From here, we aim to, develop world-wide comparisons.

Incorporating technological studies, raw material sourcing, and formal analyses of skill and knowledge transmission, the data will be used to test hypotheses on the role of cross-craft interaction in ensuring resilience, and on the relationships between ritual, complex technologies, and innovations.

REVERSEACTION is a 5-year project (2021-2026) led by Marcos Martinon-Torres and funded by Horizon 2020 as an ERC Advanced Grant. It will employ a team of seven at the University of Cambridge, in addition to engaging archaeologists, anthropologists and craftspeople in Colombia, and multiple partners and advisors across the world.

Further details of the project can be found here: REVERSEACTION


ERC Advanced Grant no: 101021480

Team Members

Full list of team members and collaborators available here

Agnese Benzonelli (Post-Doctoral Research Associate)

Julia Weintritt (Project Coordinator)

Catherine (Kate) Klesner (Post-Doctoral Research Associate)

Rosie Crawford (Research Assistant) 

Anne Kwaspen (Post-Doctoral Research Associate)

Jasmine Vieri (Research Assistant)


Project Tags

Science, Technology and Innovation
Material Culture
Periods of interest: 
Other Late Prehistory
Other Prehistory
Geographical areas: 
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Museum Studies
Material Culture
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Archaeological Theory
Environmental Archaeology, Geoarchaeology, and Landscape studies
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