Institute of Archaeology


Anthropocene Research Network

This research network brings together all Institute of Archaeology researchers current engaged in work on the anthropocene and human niche construction.

The human species is a keystone species in virtually all environments, as a modifier of landscapes that impinges on the other species of the biota as well as contributing the historical development of landforms. The evolution of landscapes is entwined with the evolution of human social systems and specific modes of energy capture from the environment (foraging, farming, mineral extraction, etc.). Scholarship in the 21st century approaches this issue from a wide range of perspectives both scientific and humanistic. Two key themes of current debate are the “anthropocene” and human niche construction. This research network will bring together all IoA researchers current engaged in these topics, and provide venues for interaction and critical comparisons across space and time periods.

The domestication of plants and animals represents evolution within human constructed niches, and the development and spread of agriculture really kick started many of the environmental changes that have led to calls to recognize the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch.

Current research is wide ranging, across sub-disciplines, periods and regions of archaeology. The IoA is strong on geoarchaeology at site and landscape levels, on archaeobotany and zooarchaeology, GIS and spatial modelling, the study of mineral extraction, and evolutionary theory. A wide range of PhD projects are connected to this theme.

Main aims

  • To hold an annual internal meeting on this subject to foster interaction, and critical scholarship within the IoA.
  • To host periodic (e.g. annual) workshops or small meetings on these themes, with both IoA and external participants.
  • To enhance engagement with UCL geography and earth sciences, e.g. by continuing and fostering the lunchtime seminars on climate and human history. An annual lecture jointly sponsored by Geography and the IoA is current established. To highlight for graduate researchers the presence of a community of highly dynamic and current research on landscape as historically modified entities.
  • To foster the conditions for an IoA lead publication (e.g. journal special issue) on this topic with a strong archaeological perspective.

Network activities

Public Engagement/Events
  • Rodney Harrison, Colin Sterling and other members of the AHRC Heritage Priority Area team have organised the Association of Critical Heritage Studies 'Futures' virtual conference, taking place in August 2020.
  • Rodney Harrison organised the session Archaeology and Heritage Studies in, of and after the Anthropocene at the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) Conference at UCL in December 2019.
  • Manuel Arroyo-Kalin presented a paper on Human Demography in pre-Columbian Amazonia at the Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Prehistoric Demography workshop (CROSSDEM, March 2019). Keynotes for CROSSDEM were offered by Stephen Shennan and Andrew Bevan.
  • Elizabeth Graham is a member of the Steering Committee for the AHRC-funded TruLife Network (Tropical Urban Life).
  • Manuel Arroyo-Kalin's British Academy-funded research involves engagement of indigenous peoples of the Upper Negro region, Brazil.
  • Rodney Harrison organised the public lecture by Marcy Rockman – Heritage and Climate Change: The Power of Archaeological Thinking for addressing Modern Problems in October 2018.
  • Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling organised the AHRC-funded symposium Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene at UCL in September 2018.
  • Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling also organised the AHRC-funded public event In Conversation: Tuguldur Yondonjamts and Denis Byrne in September 2018.
  • Manuel Arroyo-Kalin was invited to be part of the scientific committee of the 16th Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology/coinciding with the 12th Symposium of the Brazilian Society of Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology. The meeting took place in Belém, Brasil, in August 2018.
  • A one day symposium sponsored by the ERC-funded ComPAg project to consider the state of the art in documenting domestication and transitions to agriculture took place on 9 May 2018.
  • Dorian Fuller, Elizabeth Graham, and other network members participated in the Annual SAA meeting, Washington DC, April 2018.
  • A special section on Human Niche Construction (3 papers plus an introduction), edited and authored by several networks of the research network, was published in Archaeology International in December 2017.
  • Dorian Fuller attended a UCL-Eden Project networking meeting in Oct. 2017, and has since had correspondence with Eden with regards to (a) consulting on their development of a “Fertile Crescent” garden and (b) the potential to carrying out outreach/impact events at Eden relating to results of research on domestication.
Related Projects
Related Publications
  • Harrison, Rodney and Colin Sterling (eds) (2020). Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene. London: Open Humanities Press.
  • Breithoff, Esther and Rodney Harrison (2020). Making Futures in End Times: Nature Conservation in the Anthropocene. In R. Harrison & C. Sterling (eds) Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene. Open Humanities Press, London.
  • Sterling, Colin and Rodney Harrison (2020) Introduction: Of Times and Territories. In R. Harrison & C. Sterling (eds) Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene. Open Humanities Press, London.
  • Rodney Harrison, Caitlin DeSilvey, Cornelius Holtorf, Sharon Macdonald, Nadia Bartolini, Esther Breithoff, Harald Fredheim, Antony Lyons, Sarah May, Jennie Morgan, and Sefryn Penrose 2020. Heritage Futures: Comparative Approaches to Natural and Cultural Heritage Practices. London: UCL Press.
  • DeSilvey, Caitlin and Rodney Harrison (2020). Anticipating Loss: Rethinking Endangerment in Heritage Futures. International Journal of Heritage Studies 26(1): 1-7.
  • Harrison, Rodney, Staffan Appelgren and Anna Bohlin (2018). Belonging and Belongings: On Migrant and Nomadic Heritages in and for the Anthropocene. In Y. Hamilakis (Ed.), The New Nomadic Age: Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration. Sheffield, UK: Equinox.
  • Castillo, Cristina Cobo, Martin Polkinghorne, Brice Vincent, Tan Buoy Suy, and Dorian Q Fuller (2018). Life goes on: Archaeobotanical investigations of diet and ritual at Angkor Thom, Cambodia (fourteenth to fifteenth centuries CE). The Holocene. DOI: 10.1177/0959683617752841
  • Dunning, Nicholas P., Timothy Beach, Elizabeth Graham, David Lentz, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach (2018). Maize, manioc, mamey and more: Precolumbian lowland Maya agriculture. In The Archaeology of Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean Farmers (5000 B.C. to A.D. 1500), edited by Basil Reid. Routledge, London.
  • Fuller, Dorian Q (2018) Long and attenuated: comparative trends in the domestication of tree fruits. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 27(1): 165-176. DOI: 10.1007/s00334-017-0659-2
  • Graham, E. and Christian Isendahl (2018) neotropical cities as agro-urban landscapes: Revisiting ‘Low-Density, Agrarian-Based Urbanism’, in Ekblom, Isendhal and Lindholm (eds.) The resilience of heritage. Cultivating a Future past. Essays in Honour of Paul JJ Sinclair. Uppsal Universitet.
  • Marchant, R., Richer, S., Capitani, C., Courtney-Mustaphi, C., Prendergast, M., Stump, D., Boles, P., Lane, P., Wynne-Jones, S., Vasquez, C. F., Wright,D., Boivin, N., Lang, C., Kay, A., Phelps, L., Fuller, D., Widgren, M., Punwong, P., Lejju, J., Gaillard-Lemdahl, M.-J., Morrison, K. D., Kaplan, J., Benard, J., Crowther, A., Cuni-Sanchez, A. (2018). Drivers and trajectories of land cover change in East Africa: Human and environmental interactions from 6000years ago to present. Earth-Science Reviews. //doi.org/10.1016/j.earscirev.2017.12.010
  • Allaby, Robin, Leilani Lucas, Chris Stevens, Osamu Maeda, and Dorian Q Fuller (2017). Geographic mosaics and changing rates of cereal domestication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 372: 20160429. doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0429
  • Arroyo-Kalin, M. (2017). "Human Niche Construction and Population Growth in Pre-Columbian Amazonia." Archaeology International 20: 122-136.
  • Arroyo-Kalin, M., CJ Stevens, D Wengrow, DQ Fuller, M Wollstonecroft (2017). "Civilisation and Human Niche Construction." Archaeology International 20: 106-109.
  • Ellis, Erle, Nicholas R. Magliocca, Chris J. Stevens, Dorian Q Fuller (2017). Evolving the Anthropocene: linking multi-level selection with long-term social–ecological change. Sustainability Science. DOI : 10.1007/s11625-017-0513-6
  • Fox, T., Pope, M. and Ellis, E.C. (2017). Engineering the Anthropocene: Scalable social networks and resilience building in human evolutionary timescales. The Anthropocene Review, 4(3), pp.199-215.
  • Fuller, Dorian Q and Leilani Lucas (2017) Adapting crops, landscapes and food choices: Patterns in the dispersal of domesticated plants across Eurasia. In M. Petraglia, N Boivin and R. Crassard (eds) Human Dispersal and Species Movement: From Prehistory to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 304-331.
  • Dorian Q Fuller, Chris J. Stevens (2017) Open for Competition: Domesticates, Parasitic Domesticoids and the Agricultural Niche. Archaeology International 20: 110-121.
  • Fuller, Dorian Q., Sue Colledge, Charlene Murphy & Chris J. Stevens (2017). Sizing up cereal variation: patterns in grain evolution revealed in chronological and geographical comparisons. In: Miscelánea en homenaje a Lydia Zapata Peña (1965-2015). Edited by Javier Fernández Eraso, José Antonio Mujika Alustiza, Álvaro Arrizabalaga Valbuena, Marcos García Díez. Bilbao: Servicio Editorial Universidad Del País Vasco. Pp. 131-149.
  • Harrison, Rodney (2017). Freezing seeds and making futures: Endangerment, hope, security, and time in agrobiodiversity conservation practices. Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 39(2): 80-89.
  • Pope, M., McNabb, J. and Gamble, C. eds., 2017. Crossing the Human Threshold: Dynamic Transformation and Persistent Places During the Middle Pleistocene. Routledge.
  • Shennan, S. 2018. The First Farmers of Europe: an Evolutionary Perspective. Cambridge University Press.
  • Warden, L., M. Moros, T. Neumann, S. Shennan, A. Timpson, K. Manning, M. Sollai, L. Wacker, K. Perner, K. Häusler, T. Leipe, L. Zillén, A. Kotilainen, E. Jansen, R. R. Schneider, R. Oeberst, H. Arz and J. S. Sinninghe Damsté (2017). "Climate induced human demographic and cultural change in northern Europe during the mid-Holocene." Scientific Reports 7(1): 15251.
  • Wengrow, D. (2017) Avoiding the Pestilence of the State: Some Thoughts on Niche Construction, Heritage, and Sacred Waterworks. Archaeology International 20: 137-143.
  • Winchell, Frank, Chris J. Stevens, Charlene Murphy, Louis Champion and Dorian Q Fuller (2017) Evidence for sorghum domestication in Fourth Millennium BC eastern Sudan: spikelet morphology from ceramic impressions of the Butana Group. Current Anthropology 58 (5): 673-683. DOI: 10.1086/693898.
  • Harrison, Rodney (2015). Beyond “Natural” and “Cultural” Heritage: Toward an Ontological Politics of Heritage in the Age of Anthropocene. Heritage & Society, 8 (1), 24-42.