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Department of Archaeology


I am an archaeologist, historical ecologist and ethnographer whose research has centred on human-environment interactions and how they influence each other over longer timeframes, how that helps to build distinct ethnic identities, and how that history continues to shape present identities and landscapes.

There are two strands to my research. My main research works with agro-pastoral communities of the East African Rift Valley, where with the help of friends and colleagues I am pioneering new theories of and approaches to the historical archaeology of Africa. I am also interested in the integration of historical ecology as well as how we can use archaeology, history and heritage to communicate about climate change and create narratives that promote sustainability and climate action.

The second strand of my research focuses on the digitisation of ethnography and the sustainable recording of living heritage and material practices. Anthropologists, ethnographers and archaeologists working with living communities need to adapt their data storage methods to the digital world, while at the same time digital platforms need to become more flexible and culture and society-centric to allow the appropriate representation and preservation of knowledge.


I am an archaeologist, historical ecologist and ethnographer working in East African and the UK. 

I received a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology from University of Bristol before continuing with an MSt in Archaeology from the University of Oxford, where I worked as part of the ERC-funded Sealinks project researching Indian Ocean connections and trade on the East African coast and islands. I received my PhD from Uppsala in 2018, where I was part of the Resilience in East African Landscapes (REAL) Innovative Training Network and worked with the Ilchamus community in Baringo, Kenya. Since 2006 I also worked on a number of commercial projects in Slovenia and UK.

I joined the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme in 2019 where I developed a metadata schema for material-culture-centred ethnographic research. 

I joined Cambridge in 2021 first as an MSCA postdoctoral fellow to critically assess historical archaeology in Africa, and then as a Leverhulme ECF in 2024 investigating how archaeology can inform farming strategies in the fens.


I am an archaeologist, historical ecologist and ethnographer whose research has centred around human-environment interactions and how they influence each other over longer timeframes, how that helps to build distinct ethnic identities, and how that history continues to shape present identities and landscapes. My key focus is making archaeology usable and applicable towards addressing modern issues. This includes how archaeological narratives can be made useful to local communities when discussing issues of sustainability, environmental and climate change. I have worked with agro-pastoral communities in Africa to pioneer new theories of and approaches to historical archaeology and historical ecology of Africa; and am now working with Cambridgeshire farmers to understand how archaeology can inform sustainable farming. 

I also work on developing and promoting sustainable and ethical recording methods and data management in ethnography as digital tools and techniques become commonplace. A key part of this was a material-culture-centred metadata schema. 

Key Publications

Key publications: 


Petek, N. (2018) Archaeological Perspectives on Risk and Community Resilience in the Baringo Lowlands, Kenya. Studies in Global Archaeology 24 (Uppsala: Uppsala University)



Lane, P. and Petek-Sargeant, N. (2024) From settlement histories to maritime historical ecologies: Developing new approaches to the archaeology of the Western Indian Ocean. In: Burguet, D., Fee, S., Sanchez, S.J, (Eds.), De Madagascar à l'océan Indien global - Approches anthropologiques et historiques avec Philippe Beaujard (Paris: Hemispheres)



Petek-Sargeant, N. (in prep.) Oral history made tangible and visual: Retelling Ilchamus stories through photographs, objects and archaeology.

Petek-Sargeant, N. and Lane, P. (2022) Weather Landscapes and Archaeology: Material Weathering Practices and Tangible Climates. Archéologie, société et environnement 2: 10.21494/ISTE.OP.2022.0855

Petek-Sargeant, N. and Lane, P. (2021) Weathering climate change in archaeology: conceptual challenges and an East African case study. Cambridge Archaeological Journal

van der Plas, G.W., de Cort, G., Petek-Sargeant, N., Wuytack, T., Colombaroli, D., Lane, P. and Verschuren, D. (2019) Distinct phases of natural landscape dynamics and intensifying human activity in the central Kenya Rift Valley during the past 1300 years. Quaternary Science Reviews 218: 91-106

Boles, O., Shoemaker, A., Courtney Mustaphi, C.J., Petek, N., Ekblom, A., Lane, P. (2019) Historical Ecologies of Pastoralist Overgrazing in Kenya: Long-Term Perspectives on Cause and Effect. Human Ecology 47: 419-434

Marchant, R., Richer, S., Boles, O., Capitani, C., Courtney Mustaphi, C.J., Lane, P., Prendergast, M.E., Stump, D., De Cort, G., Kaplan, J.D., Phelps, L., Kay, A., Olago, D., Petek, N., Platts, P.J., Punwong, P., Widgren, M., et al (2018) Drivers and trajectories of land cover change in East Africa: Human and environmental interactions from 6000 years ago to present, Earth-Science Reviews 178: 322-378

Armstrong, C.G., Shoemaker, A.C., McKechnie, I., Ekblom, A., Szabó, P., Lane, P.J., McAlvay, A.C., Boles, O.J., Walshaw, S., Petek, N., Gibbons, K.S. et al (2017) Anthropological contributions to historical ecology: 50 questions, infinite prospects, PloS one 12(2), p.e0171883

Petek, N. and Lane, P. (2017) Ethnogenesis and surplus food production: communitas and identity building among nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ilchamus Lake Baringo, Kenya, World Archaeology 49(1): 40-60

Crowther, A., Faulkner, P., Prendergast, M.E., Quintana Morales, E.M., Horton, M., Wilmsen, E., Kotarba-Morley, A.M., Christie, A., Petek, N., Tibesasa, R. and Douka, K. (2016) Coastal subsistence, maritime trade, and the colonization of small offshore islands in eastern African prehistory, The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 11(2): 211-237.



Petek-Sargeant, N., Nakure, G., Senteyon, M., Nakure, P., Tiren, W., (2024) The Past, The Present, The Future: Ilchamus. Touring exhibition in Baringo County, 11-23/01/2024; Permanent exhibition at Kabarnet Museum, Kabarnet, 23/01/2024 onwards

Petek-Sargeant, N. (2020) Ilchamus stories told through photographs, objects, and archaeology. Nkatinin o Ilchamus naatolimuaki aimunye nkitodolunot, ntokitin o ntokitin e apa naaturuno. Touring exhibition in the Baringo South constituency, Kenya; from 28th Feb to 9th March 2020

Bedorf, F., Östberg, W., Lane, P., Petek, N., Kioko, E., Shoemaker, A., Pas, A., Githumbi, E., de Bont, C., Gravesen, M., Adongo, C., Chuhila, M. and van der Plas, G.W. (2019) Getting Closer: Ways of Understanding Climate Change in East Africa. A traveling exhibition by the Resilience in East African Landscapes (REAL) project. Touring exhibition across Europe; from 9th Feb to 20th December 2019



Petek-Sargeant, N., (2020) Material Culture Ethnography Metadata Schema. London: British Museum., and



Petek-Sargeant, N. (2021) Remembering Turkana: material histories and contemporary livelihoods in north-western Kenya: by Samuel F. Derbyshire. (Abingdon, Routledge). Azania: 1-3



Petek, N. (2015) An archaeological survey of the Lake Baringo lowlands 2014: Preliminary results. Nyame Akuma 83: 100-111

Petek, N. (2011) The East African diaspora: The problem with slaves, The Post Hole 15: 13-18

Job Titles

Leverthulme Trust/Newton Trust Early Career Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
College Research Associate, Homerton College
Member of the Editorial Board, Annals of the Náprstek Museum
Nik Petek-Sargeant

General Info

Available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Museum Studies
Material Culture
Socio-Politics of the Past
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Archaeological Theory
Computational and Quantitative Archaeology
Field Methods
Environmental Archaeology, Geoarchaeology, and Landscape studies
Cultural Heritage

Contact Details

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
np569 [at]


Person keywords: 
East Africa
Historical ecology
Community engagement
Applied archaeology
Environment, Landscapes and Settlement
Material Culture
Geographical areas: 
Periods of interest: 
Other Historical
Other Late Prehistory