Simon Hillson
  • simon.hillson@ucl.ac.uk
  • Direct: +44 (0)20 7679 4784
  • Internal: 24784
  • Room 312
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY UK

Simon Hillson

Research Interests

Simon Hillson’s main interest is in the biology of humans and other mammals in the past. Bones make up the majority of archaeological evidence for this, but he has focused particularly on teeth, because they are tough and survive well, and because they yield a much greater amount of information. They can be identified to species, matched up with other teeth from different individuals (when the remains are broken and scattered), identified as male or female, used to estimate age-at-death, examined under the microscope to give a detailed chronology of development in childhood (even in adults), used to reconstruct behaviour and diet from the pattern of wear and disease, and used to follow the path of evolution and migration through tiny differences in size and shape. For a given research effort, teeth therefore yield a very large amount of information.

  • Study of tooth and jaw reduction in the evolution of Neanderthals and modern humans NERC funded research project, started in 2000 and continuing, with Dr Charles FitzGerald as Postdoctoral Research Assistant. The project has built a large database of measurements and other observations for Middle Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Neolithic collections in Portugal, France, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Israel, Egypt, Sudan and Algeria. We are using new tooth measurements which are more resistant to the effects of tooth wear (a particular problem in this early material), to maximise the number of specimens that can be included. The new measurements required the development of a new type of calliper with Paleotech Inc
  • Tooth crown growth as an index of health in past populations Enamel and dentine in ancient teeth preserve detailed growth chronologies as sequences of layers, with clear defects which mark the timing of growth disruptions, related to health in childhood. Involvement with projects includes a study of the Great Famine of AD 1315-1323, based on teeth from the East Smithfield Black Death cemetery, being carried out by Dr Daniel Antoine and the collaboration with the Natural History Museum project (below).
  • William Hewson's anatomy school at Craven Street, London Since 1998, excavation and study of human remains found in the basement of Benjamin Franklin's former residence at 36 Craven Street. The remains almost certainly represent the 1772-1774 anatomy school of William Hewson who was Franklin's lodger at the house. Coordinating the study of the excavated material, with Professor Tony Waldron and Dr Louise Martin (UCL), and the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House.
  • Experimental earthworks Chair of the Experimental Earthworks Sub-Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. There are two earthworks, one in Wiltshire built in 1960, and one in Dorset built in 1963. The experiments are designed to monitor geomorphological processes and alterations to buried materials over 128 years.

Research Directory Records


  • Ancient teeth, diet and behaviour in Peru. This is a collaboration with The Bioanthropology Foundation Peru-Centro Mallqui, based in Lima, Ilo and Leymebamba.   The Centro Mallqui is directed by Dra Sonia Guillén. At its museum in Leymebamba, it has in its care mummies and skeletons from the Chachapoyas people, dating to 800-1470 AD, recovered from the Laguna de los Cóndores in the cloudforest of the Amazonas region of Perú. In the study centre at Ilo,it has skeletons from Formativo (1000 BC – AD 500) sites on the coast, and mummies of the Tiwanaku (AD 300 – 1000) and Chiribaya (AD 1000 – 1400) people in the Ilo valley. This area of Perú is at the northern edge of the Atacama Desert and there are therefore large contrasts with the Chachapoyas in the food which would have been available. Simon Hillson is carryingout a study of tooth wear and disease on these assemblages, following the effect of these differences in diet and lifestyle.
  • Growth and development in children’s skeletons from the island of Astypalaia, Dodecanese, Greece. Collaboration since 1999 with the 22nd Ephorate of Prehistoric & Classical Antiquities, who are excavating two large cemeteries on Astypalaia – Notia Kylindra and Katsalos – largely Late Archaic and Early Classical (between 600and 400 BC), but continuing into Roman times. The Kylindra site is producing the largest archaeological assemblageof baby skeletons in the world (currently 800 individuals and rising yearly).  The human remains team from UCL is directed by Simon Hillson, and is responsible for recovering, cleaning, conserving, recording, storing and cataloguing the skeletons. Ultimately, the aim is a detailed study of growth in this exceptional assemblage. We are planning to publish the catalogue as an online database, and set up a study centre and museum on Astypalaia. The work has been supported by grants from the Institute of Archaeology, British Academy, and Arts & Humanities Research Board, and we gratefully acknowledge the support of the mayor of Astypalaia and the island council.
  • The Gravettian child’s skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Lapedo Valley, Portugal. Collaboration with Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University, St Louis and João Zilhão, University of Barcelona. This burial, dating to 24,000-25,000 years ago, was discovered in 1998. There has been a great deal of discussion about the possibility that some features of the skeleton might show a “mosaic” of Neandertal-like and modern human-like features. The question of possible inter-breeding of Neandertals and modern humans.  Simon Hillson was responsible for studying the teeth – Chapters 13, 14,23, 24 and 31 in Portrait of the artist as a child. The Gravettian human skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho and its archaeological context,edited by J. Zilhão and E. Trinkaus, Instituto Portugês de Arqueologia, Lisbon, 2003. Further details are available here» Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
  • The Gravettian skeletons from Dolní Vestonice and Pavlov, near Brnoin the Czech Republic. The Dolní Vestonice and Pavlov human burials, dating to 27,000-25,000 years ago, are amongst the oldest modern humans tohave been found in Europe. They include an exceptional number of complete skeletons, and an important series of teeth. Since 1998 an international team, also led by Erik Trinkaus (above), has been studying the remains. Simon Hillson has again been responsible for the dental study. The work of the team is being published in a series of monographs: V. Sládek, E. Trinkaus, S. W. Hillson, and T. W. Holliday. The People of the Pavlovian. Skeletal Catalogue and Osteometrics of the Gravettian Fossil Hominids from Dolní Vestonice and Pavlov. Dolní Vestonice Studies 5. Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Institute of Archaeology, Brno. 2000. Chapters 6, 11 and19 in: Erik Trinkaus & Jirí A. Svoboda, Editors, The Paleobiology of the Pavlovian People, Dolní Vestonice Studies 12. Oxford University Press. In press.
  • Collaboration with Dr Louise Humphrey (Natural History Museum) in a Wellcome Trust funded project, for which the Research Fellow is Dr Tania King, on a study of growth and development in children from the Christ Church Spitalfields crypt.

Educational Background

  • BSc Geology & Archaeology, University of Birmingham.
  • PhD Institute of Archaeology, University of London.

Current Students

  • Emmy Bocaege Enamel defects as indicators of childhood stress in the Neolithic Near East (second supervisor Anna Clement)
  • Tania Kausmally William Hewson and the Craven Street Anatomy School (second supervisor Louise Martin)
  • Katharine Griffiths An investigation of gender in juvenile burials using dental morphometrics to assign biological sex (second supervisor Ruth Whitehouse)
  • Stacy Hackner Bending Stress and Midshaft Shape Change in the Human Leg (second supervisor Tony Waldron)
  • Victoria Yorke-Edwards Obesity in London 1700-1850: the archival and osteoarchaeological evidence (second supervisors Tony Waldron and Gustav Milne)

Secondary Supervision

  • Meghan Banton Diarrhoea, Dysentery and the Clap: Connecting the Soldiering Lifestyle to Literary and Skeletal Evidence of Reactive Arthritides Induced by Gastrointestinal and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (principal supervisor Tony Waldron)
  • Valentina Bernardi Spinal Pathology in relation to social status in the Forth Cataract, Sudan (principal supervisor Tony Waldron)
  • Donna Harrison A comparison of morphological and metrical methods used to estimate sex in adult and juvenile skeletal material (principal supervisor Tony Waldron)

Previous Students

  • Brenna Hassett Changing World, Changing Lives: Enamel Hypoplasia and Child Health in Post Medieval London (joint supervision with Daniel Antoine)
  • Carolyn Rando Human behavior and the temporomandibular joint (second supervisor Louise Martin)
  • Nancy Tang Root dentine translucency and its correlation to chronological Age in Archaeological Human Remains (second supervisor Daniel Antoine)
  • Velissaria Vanna How different was life in a Hellenistic town to 20th century Greek urban life? A biological approach (second supervisor Ken Thomas)

Bookmark and Share