UCL Anthropocene


Professor Elizabeth Graham

Academic position: Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology

Department: Institute of Archaeology

Telephone number: 02076797532 office; 07901718315 mobile

Email: e.graham@ucl.ac.uk


As an archaeologist whose fieldwork involves digging through the detritus of past societies and civilisations, the idea that humans have had a significant impact on the earth is a no-brainer. My and my team’s research focuses not so much on pottery types or architecture, which constitute tradtional archaeology, but instead on tracing the decay of what has been thrown away (e.g., domestic and industrial waste), left behind (abandoned buildings), or buried (bodies). Our interest is how the decay components affect: 1) the way soils form; 2) the amount of soils formed; and 3) the properties of the modern cultivable landscape, including natural vegetation. Our project aims include developing innovative methods of accelerating the formation of our current global soil resource; re-thinking cemetery management; as well as contributing to sustainable strategies for the management of waste, especially the waste that goes into landfill.  

Research Projects

  • In press  E. Graham, D. Evans, L. Duncan. The Waste of Time. In The Temporalities of Waste: Out of Sight, Out of Time, eds. F. Allon, R. Barcan, K. Eddison-Cogan. Routledge Environmental Humanities Series. 
  • 2018 E. Graham & Christian Isendahl. Neotropical Cities as Agro-Urban Landscapes. In The Resilience of Heritage—Cultivating a Future of the Past, eds. A.Ekblom, C. Isendahl and K-J Lindholm, 165-180. Studies in Global Archaeology 23 (series editor, P.Lane). Uppsala University. 
  • From 30 November 2018 to 17 February, 2019: Dust to Dust: Redesigning Urban Life in Healthy Soils.’ Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich. Part of curation team headed by B. Vis (Kent), D. Evans (Lancaster).   
  • 2017 Graham, E., Macphail, R., Turner, S., Crowther, J., Stegemann, J., Arroyo-Kalin, M., Duncan, L., Whittet, R., Rosique, C., Austin, P. The Marco Gonzalez Maya site, Ambergris Caye, Belize: Assessing the impact of human activities by examining diachronic processes at the local scale. Quaternary International 437: 115-142. 
  • 2017 Macphail, Richard I., Elizabeth Graham, John Crowther, Simon Turner. Marco Gonzalez, Ambergris Caye, Belize: A geoarchaeological record of ground raising associated with surface soil formation and the presence of a Dark Earth.  Journal of Archaeological Science 77: 35-51. 
  • 2016 Graham, E., R. Macphail, J. Crowther, S. Turner, J. Stegemann, M. Arroyo-Kalin, L. Duncan, P. Austin, R. Whittet, C. Rosique. Past and Future Earth, Archaeology International 19: 97-108. 
  • 2006 A Neotropical Framework for Terra Preta.  In Time & Complexity in Historical Ecology:  Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands, eds. W.Baleé & C.Erickson, 57-86.  Columbia University Press, NY. 
  • 1999 Stone Cities, Green Cities. In Complex Polities in the Ancient Tropical World, edited by Elisabeth A. Bacus and Lisa J. Lucero, pp 185-194.  Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 9.  AAA, Arlington, Virginia. ** 
  • 1999 Farming the Built Environment.  In For Hunger-Proof Cities: Sustainable Urban Food Systems, edited by Mustafa Koc, Rod MacRae, Luc J.A. Mougeot, and Jennifer Welsh, pp. 150-154.  International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa.  
  • 1998 Metaphor and Metamorphism--Some Thoughts on Environmental Meta-History.  In Advances in Historical Ecology, edited by William Balée, pp.119-137. Columbia University Press, New York.


I teach several courses on the Maya and Mesoamerica that include humans and environmental impact, but in terms of directly engaging with the Anthropocene, I contribute to a single course: ARCL0044 Archaeology in the World -- running in 2020-21.