Institute of Archaeology


David W. Phillipson - Honorary Professor

David W. Phillipson
  • Honorary Professor
  • Litt.D., FBA., FSA. and Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences
  • Email: d.phillipson@ucl.ac.uk
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY UK

After reading Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge 1961-4, I began my career as an Africanist archaeologist as director of the National Monuments Commission (1964-72) in Northern Rhodesia, latterly Zambia. I was then appointed Assistant Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa and, from its Nairobi base, conducted research in northern Kenya, Ethiopia and what is now South Sudan.

In 1979 I returned to Britain and took up a post at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow before moving to Cambridge in 1991. My primary appointment there was as Curator of the University Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, but I also taught African Archaeology becoming Reader and subsequently Professor, as well as a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College. While based at Cambridge, my principal archaeological field research was in Ethiopia, although I also completed a text-book overview of archaeology in Africa which ran to three editions.

In 2006, I took early retirement from my Cambridge appointments to concentrate on writing, although I retain an Emeritus Fellowship at Caius. I now live in North Yorkshire.

Research Interests

  • African post-Pleistocene archaeology (sensu lato)
  • Ethiopian history and archaeology
  • Relationship between archaeology and other disciplines in illuminating the African past
  • Nurturing African involvement in archaeological research

Being resident far from London, my involvement with the Institute of Archaeology has been less extensive than I would wish. In writing my two most recent books (see publications), I made extensive use of UCL library facilities. I have given seminars, examined a doctoral dissertation, and held meetings with a former Institute graduate student to advise on preparing her dissertation for publication. I have recently been working with Kevin MacDonald and Marcos Martinon-Torres on a project investigating pre-Islamic trans-Saharan trade in West African gold.


Selected recent publications

Since accepting my honorary UCL appointment, my principal published books have been:

  • Foundations of an African Civilisation: Aksum and the northern Horn, 1000 BC - AD 1300. James Currey, 2012 & 2014, also issued in Ethiopia by Addis Ababa University Press, 2014. (See Archaeology International 15 (2012): 49-52.)
  • Ancient Churches of Ethiopia, fourth - fourteenth centuries. Yale University Press, 2009, also issued in Ethiopia by Arada Books.