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Department of Archaeology

 

Biography

I am a Palaeolithic archaeologist with broad interests in the design, production and use of stone tool artefacts across the Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic periods. My research often investigates the interplay between cultural and biological aspects of our evolutionary history, and applies techniques more commonly used in mechanical and biomechanical engineering research to better understand the behaviour and evolution of early humans. My PhD in Anthropology was awarded in 2015 by the University of Kent under the supervision of Dr Stephen Lycett. Prior to this, I completed my MSc in Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology at University College London. Following my PhD, I was awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, which I held from 2016 to 2019. During this period, I also spent time as a visiting researcher at Kent State University. Prior to my appointment at Cambridge, I was a Lecturer in Biological Anthropology at the University of Kent.

Research

My research investigates the behaviour and evolution of early humans through the excavation and analysis of lithic artefacts, the experimental production and use of replica stone and organic tools, and a variety of different modelling processes. At a broad level, my work asks, ‘how technologically capable were our early ancestors, and does this vary between hominin species?’ Much of my research explores the utilitarian design principles underpinning the production of Palaeolithic stone tools and 

considers whether early humans produced functionally efficient and effective tool forms, and if not, why not. I also investigate the co-evolution of the hominin upper limb and Palaeolithic stone tools, focusing equally on understanding 1) the influence that lithic technology had on the evolution of human anatomy, and 2) the extent to which ergonomic principles influenced stone tool design criteria. My research interests are, however, substantially more diverse and reflect my wide-ranging curiosity about our early ancestors. Other published works have investigated temporal range estimation methods, early hominin dispersal routes, the history of Palaeolithic archaeology, the mechanics of lithic microwear formation, citation networks within Palaeolithic research, and ‘rediscovered’ Pleistocene faunal remains. Currently, I direct excavations at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Fordwich Pit near Canterbury, Kent (UK). Fordwich Pit retains some of the earliest evidence for the occupation of Britain by humans, and at the time of writing is the oldest archaeological site being excavated in the UK. In addition, I have ongoing collaborative field projects in Southeast Asia and North America. Previous fieldwork has taken me to Spain, Southeast Asia, the USA, and the UK.

Publications

Key publications: 

For a full list of publications please see: Google Scholar or https://sites.google.com/site/ajmkey/home

Key, A.J.M., Roberts, D.L. and Jarić, I. (2021) Statistical inference of earlier origins for the first flaked stone technologies. Journal of Human Evolution, 154: 102976

Key, A.J.M., Jarić, I. and Roberts, D.L. (2021) Modelling the end of the Acheulean at global and continental levels suggests widespread persistence into the Middle Palaeolithic. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8: 55

Key, A.J.M., Proffitt, T., and de la Torre, I. (2020) Raw material optimisation and stone tool engineering in the Early Stone Age of Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). Journal of the Royal Society Interface 17 (162): 20190377

Key, A.J.M., Farr, I., Hunter, R., and Winter, S.L. (2020) Muscle recruitment and stone tool use ergonomics across three million years of Palaeolithic technological transitions. Journal of Human Evolution, 144: 102796

Key, A.J.M. (2019) Handaxe shape variation in a relative context. Comptes Rendus Palevol 18 (5): 555 - 567

Bebber, M., Key, A.J.M., Fisch, M., Meindl, R.S. and Eren, M.I. (2019) The exceptional abandonment of metal tools by North American hunter-gatherers, 3000 B.P. Scientific Reports 9: 5756

Key, A.J.M., Fisch, M.R., and Eren, M.I. (2018) Early stage blunting causes rapid reductions in stone tool performance. Journal of Archaeological Science 91: 1-11

Key, A.J.M., Merritt, S.R., and Kivell, T.L. (2018) Hand grip diversity and frequency during the use of Lower Palaeolithic stone tools. Journal of Human Evolution 125: 137-158

Key, A.J.M. and Lycett, S.J. (2017) Form and function in the Lower Palaeolithic: history, progress, and continued relevance. Journal of Anthropological Sciences 95: 67-108

Key, A.J.M. and Lycett, S.J., (2017) Influence of handaxe size and shape on cutting efficiency: a large-scale experiment and morphometric analysis. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24 (2): 514-541

Key, A.J.M. (2016) Integrating mechanical and ergonomic research within functional and morphological analyses of lithic cutting technology: key principles and future experimental directions. Ethnoarchaeology 8 (1): 69-89

Key, A.J.M., Proffitt, T., Stefani, E., and Lycett, S.J., (2016) Looking at handaxes from another angle: assessing the ergonomic and functional importance of edge form in Acheulean bifaces. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 44 (A): 43-55

Key, A.J.M. and Dunmore, C. J. (2015) The evolution of the hominin thumb and the influence exerted by the non-dominant hand during stone tool production.Journal of Human Evolution 78: 60 - 69

Key, A.J.M. and Lycett, S.J. (2015) Edge angle as a variably influential factor in flake cutting efficiency: An experimental investigation of its relationship with tool size and loading. Archaeometry 57 (5): 911 – 92

Key, A.J.M. and Lycett, S.J. (2011).Technology based evolution? A biometric test of the effects of handsize versus tool form on efficiency in an experimental cutting task. Journal of Archaeological Science 38 (7): 1663-1670

Teaching and Supervisions

Teaching: 

I co-ordinate paper A22/G04 (Palaeolithic Archaeology) and contribute to paper A1 (World Archaeology).

Research supervision: 

I am interested in supervising students who wish to study for an MPhil or PhD in topics related to:

- Palaeolithic archaeology.

- Mechanical engineering techniques and their application to archaeological questions.

- Biomechanical and ergonomic approaches within archaeology.

- Temporal, spatial, and demographic modelling in prehistoric contexts.

- The evolution of the human hand from a cultural perspective.

If you wish to pursue postdoctoral research at Cambridge and believe that we could work together, or that I could contribute to your training, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me with a brief outline of your ideas for how we could work together, and any associated funding plans.

Other Professional Activities

Associate Editor - Journal of Human Evolution.

Job Titles

Lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology

General Info

Takes PhD students
Available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Paleoanthropology
Material Culture
Human Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology
Human Evolution
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Archaeological Theory
Computational and Quantitative Archaeology
Cultural Evolution

Contact Details

Department of Archaeology
Cambridge

Affiliations

Person keywords: 
Palaeolithic Archaeology; Gene-Culture Co-Evolution; Biomechanics and Ergonomics; Mechanical Engineering; Acheulean
Subjects: 
Archaeology
Themes: 
Science, Technology and Innovation
Material Culture
Human Evolutionary Studies
Geographical areas: 
Africa
Britain
Cambridgeshire
Europe
Southeast Asia
Periods of interest: 
Palaeolithic/Mesolithic