Institute of Archaeology

Prof Stephen Shennan

Prof Stephen Shennan

Professor of Theoretical Archaeology

Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square

Institute of Archaeology

Joined UCL
1st Jul 1996

Research summary

I have long-standing interests in the Neolithic and Bronze Age prehistory of Europe but since the late 1980s my research has been mainly focussed on exploring the use of method and theory from the study of biological evolution to understand cultural stability and change as an evolutionary process, taking up an agenda initially set by the work of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman and Boyd and Richerson. In 2000, together with a group of colleagues, I was successful in obtaining funding to set up a Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour at UCL, funded by the UK Art and Humanities of which I was Director 2001-2005; the Centre produced a major body of work on various aspects of cultural evolution. I was a co-applicant and member of the second phase AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity (2006-2010), which was also very productive. In my own publications I have addressed a variety of different topics, including the use of neutral models of cultural change, applications of cladistic methods in archaeology and anthropology, the role of demography in relation to cultural evolution, and human behavioural ecology approaches to social institutions (see publication list).

Currently I hold an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council for the project ‘Cultural Evolution of Neolithic Europe’. The aim of this project is to bring the different sub-fields of cultural evolutionary theory and method together in an integrated fashion and apply them to a large-scale case-study in prehistory, the European Neolithic, to address specific questions concerning the links between demographic, economic, social and cultural patterns and processes. In doing so, it will provide the basis for a new account of the role of farming in transforming early European societies, c.6000-2000 calBC. It is focussed on the western half of temperate Europe, where the available data are best, and aims to integrate culture historical patterns, for example in monuments, with demographic, economic and social processes. At the same time it is hoped that the project will have a major impact on the field of cultural evolution by providing a model example for cultural evolutionary studies of early societies in other parts of the world. In order to achieve these aims the project will extract from the existing literature a standardised set of data, and conceptualise and analyse it, in a framework which transcends the local investigatory traditions across the study area, which constrain any large-scale research.  The databases resulting from it will be unique – in that they will allow a scale and scope of historical and regional analysis not presently possible.

My earlier publications include Quantifying Archaeology (2nd ed. 1997), Genes, Memes and Human History: Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution (2002), and Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution (edited, 2009).


Teaching summary

In the past I have taught quantitative methods, European prehistory and archaeological theory. I do not currently have any teaching duties.


University of Cambridge
MA, |
University of Cambridge
PhD, Archaeology | 1977


Employment History
2005 to present    Director, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
2003 to 2005    Deputy Director, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
2001 to 2005    Director of the AHRB Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour
1996 to present    Professor of Theoretical Archaeology, University College London

Previous Appointments (all at the University of Southampton)
1995    1996        Professor
1990    1995        Reader
1987    1990        Senior Lecturer
1978    1987        Lecturer
1976    1978        Archaeological Survey Officer, Hampshire Archaeological Committee
1975    1976        Research Fellow

1971    1975        Ph.D. research, Cambridge University. Ph.D. Completed and awarded 1977.
1968    1971        BA Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge University. Part II Archaeology: 1st.

Awards and distinctions
2010    Awarded the Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
2006-7    Li Ching Visiting Professor, University of Shandong
2006    Elected Fellow of the British Academy
1989    Awarded the Kulturpreis of St Johann im Pongau, Austria, for services to local archaeology
1980    Elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries