Staff profiles

Professor Robin Dennell

Honorary Professor

I am a palaeolithic archaeologist whose main research interests are the palaeolithic and Pleistocene of Asia, particularly China and East Asia. I am especially interested in how our ancestors dispersed across Asia and eventually managed to colonise Australia and the Americas. I’ve published over 100 research papers, and my most important recent publication is ”The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia”, published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. I have recently collaborated with Chinese colleagues in searching for early palaeolithic evidence in the Loess Plateau of Central China, and later palaeolithic evidence in Inner Mongolia. In recent years I have become interested in increasing the number of palaeolithic and human evolution sites world with World Heritage status. I am one of the representatives of ICOMOS (the International Commission on Monuments and Sites) which advises the World Heritage Committee, and a member of the UNESCO HEADS (human evolution, adaptation, dispersals and social developments) programme of the World Heritage Centre, the aim of which is to increase the representation of palaeolithic and human evolution sites with World Heritage status. I was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2012.

Research interests

China: My current main research interest is in China, where I have close links with the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP), Beijing. I have been collaborating with a Chinese team in the Loess Plateau of Central China, looking for artefacts more than a million years old. This material is being prepared for publication, as is a co-edited special issue of Quaternary International on the proceedings of a conference held in June 2013 in Yinchuan, Inner Mongolia, on early Homo sapiens in Northeast Asia. 

Out of Africa 1 and 2: Human evolution in Europe and Asia is envisaged as the product of two major dispersal events: by Homo erectus, ca. 2.0-1.8 million years (Ma) ago (Out of Africa 1) and by our own species, Homo sapiens in the last 100,000 years (Out of Africa 2). My interests in these dispersals developed from my fieldwork in Pakistan, and are reflected my book “The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia” (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and several papers.

Pakistan: I began investigating the Palaeolithic of Pakistan in 1981, and was appointed Field Director of the British Archaeological Mission to Pakistan in 1988, eventually conducting 12 field seasons of fieldwork in northern Pakistan, spanning 24 months, with another 12 months of study trip. The last field season was in 1999.

This research has been published in several papers, and as two major monographs: Palaeolithic and Pleistocene Investigations in the Soan Valley, Northern Pakistan (with H. Rendell and M. Halim (1989); British Archaeological Reports (International series) 544, 1-346; and in 2004, Early Hominin Landscapes in Northern Pakistan: Investigations in the Pabbi Hills; British Archaeological Reports (International series) 1265, 1-454.

Biography

He obtained his undergraduate degree in archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University in 1969, specialising in the Palaeolithic. He then continued postgraduate study at Cambridge as part of the British Academy Project on the early history of farming, and obtained his Ph.D. in 1977, on the topic “Early farming in South Bulgaria: 6th to 3rd Millenium b.c. (see also British Archaeological Reports, International Series S47, 1978).

For the first part of his career, he was primarily interested in archaeobotany, early farming, and the neolithic of Europe and Southwest Asia. He began teaching prehistoric archaeology at Sheffield in 1973, and worked in Iran on two projects in the Zagros Mountains and Central Desert until 1978. He also wrote his first book, European Economic Prehistory: A New Approach (Academic Press, 1983), which was later translated into Spanish and Japanese.

He was made a Senior Lecturer in 1983, a Reader in 1994, and appointed a Professor in 1995. From 1981 to 1999, his main research was on the Palaeolithic and Pleistocene of Pakistan as part of a wider interest in early human evolution in Asia. He began working in Pakistan in 1981, and was appointed Field Director of the British Archaeological Mission to Pakistan in 1988, eventually conducting 12 field seasons of fieldwork in northern Pakistan, spanning 24 months, with another 12 months of study trips. The main part of this work was made possible by a Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship from 1988-1991. This research was published in several papers, and two monographs.

After serving as Head of Department from 1999-2002, he was awarded a three-year British Academy Research Professorship (2003-2006), to undertake the writing of "The Early Hominin Settlement of Asia" (Cambridge University Press, 2009), which is the first overview of the Asian Early Palaeolithic and Pleistocene prior to the last interglacial, ca. 125 ka.

 

Since 2005, his main research interests have been in China, where he has worked on two projects in Central China and Inner Mongolia with colleagues from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP), Beijing.

 

After taking voluntary severance from Sheffield in 2009, he worked independently on research papers but also on World Heritage issues. He is a representative of ICOMOS (International commission on monuments on sites) which is one of the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee, and is also a member of the UNESCO-sponsored HEADS (human evolution, adaptations, dispersals and social developments) programme that aims to raise the international profile of human evolution and Palaeolithic sites. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2012, and joined the department in Exeter in 2013.