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Department of Archaeology


Rethinking Complexity

Our research into social complexity is exceptionally wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary, using diverse methods from scientific lab-work to textual analyses, to examine the tangible and intangible aspects of large human groups and socio-political institutions. Most members of the Rethinking Complexity research cluster are actively engaged with archaeological fieldwork across the globe (excavation and survey) and with analyses of material culture. We work at multiple scales, from molecules to landscapes.

Social complexity has a long history of research and many well-established models. But members of this research cluster at Cambridge are rethinking these models and challenging traditional assumptions. Institutions may compete or collaborate; resources may move in economically illogical ways; cities may be multi-centric and low-density; ancient texts may be well-known but still present scope for deeper analysis of meanings; and collapses and challenges may disrupt settlement sustainability and cultural trajectories. 

Research in our Rethinking Complexity cluster examines themes as vital to the present as to the past: climate change and resource depletion; mobility and migration; urbanism and rural-urban relationships; the spread of disease; the resilience of identity; and the positive and negative effects of technological innovations. The Rethinking Complexity cluster is closely allied to the Environment, Landscapes and Settlement research cluster, with overlapping themes.