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UCL Centre for Evolution of Cultural Diversity receives £1.25 million five-year grant from Arts and Humanities Research Board

22 February 2006

The Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) has announced that it will fund the Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity for another five years with a £1.25 million grant, one of the largest it has ever awarded. Set up in 2001 and formerly known as the Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour (CEACB) the Centre carries out research on the evolutionary underpinnings of human culture past and present. The new grant will take effect in January 2006.

Based in the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, the Centre work will continue to be carried out by academics and graduate students from a variety of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, linguistics and genetics. Dr. James Steele will become the full time director, having previously been a senior lecturer in archaeology at Southampton University . The funding will also enable outreach projects to be carried out, such as open days and evening lectures, further raising the profile of this already well established research group.

The CEACB is the world leader in the application of evolutionary theory to human culture. CEACB work has been published in a wide range of journals including Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Current Anthropology, World Archaeology and Evolution and Human Behavior and is featured in a number of edited volumes and authored books.

CEACB projects in the past have ranged from the traditional questions of archaeology and anthropology, such as how farming spread from the Near East to Europe in prehistory, to novel applications of the same processes, including an examination of the rise in Dalmatian ownership following the release of the Walt Disney film 101 Dalmatians. CEACB work is guided by the principle that human culture, like human behaviour, is rooted in quantifiable processes derived from other fields such as ecology and biology. Evolution in material culture is not an historical event; it is an ongoing process that can be examined. Future work will focus on the relationship between population size, language and culture, as well as the precise mechanisms that give rise to innovation.

Current director Prof. Stephen Shennan, who will become Director of the Institute of Archaeology next year, said: "The next five years will enable the Centre to consolidate its position as the leader in the field of evolutionary cultural research."

Dr. Steele said: "This funding will enable us to strengthen and expand our existing collaborations with other institutions from around the world and attract the best in postgraduate students and visiting academics."

Professor Geoffrey Crossick, Chief Executive of the AHRB, said: "The AHRB Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour has undertaken important and path-breaking work during its first phase of our funding. This is a very innovative field of research and one in which the Centre has presented us with exciting plans for a second phase of support. This is among the largest awards that the AHRB has ever made, and one that we are confident will make a considerable impact on the field itself and beyond."

Notes for Editors

1. For examples of the kind of work already done by the AHRB Centre, see its web site, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ceacb .

2. The CEACB will be holding a major conference entitled Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution in September of this year, which will be a worldwide forum for research in this area. For further details please contact the CEACB or visit our new website at www.ucl.ac.uk/ceacb/2005.