John Gowlett - Research

J.A.J. Gowlett, MA PhD (Cambridge) FSA,                                                                                      Professor of Archaeology and Evolutionary Anthropology

My research interests in human evolution focus especially on the middle times between the ape-like australopithecines and the appearance of Homo sapiens within the last half million years.  Our research is aimed at tracing the preconditions of and origins of human conceptualising abilities which lead to later developments such as art and mathematics. We work with a research group which is concerned with the form and dynamics of early artefacts, and also with investigating the early history of human fire use and control.

John Gowlett is at present one of the three Directors of the British Academy Centenary Project ‘Lucy to Language’, alongside Robin Dunbar and Clive Gamble.  The Social Brain project allows the research group to work with evolutionary psychologists, linguists and others in testing new hypotheses in relation to archaeological evidence.

John Gowlett says ‘I found myself deeply interested in human evolution and Palaeolithic archaeology even before going to University.  There I was fortunate to broaden my experience working with Charles McBurney on Jersey and in Afghanistan; with Gerhard Bosinski in Germany, and with Glynn Isaac in Kenya.’ He started doctoral studies on his own excavations at Kilombe and Kariandusi, and subsequently he and J.W.K. Harris collaborated in the Chesowanja project.  He developed a strong interest in chronology through being Senior Archaeologist to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator project in its early days (1980-1987).  In his current research he concentrates on studying the nature of concepts expressed in artefact form and function, and in relating early technology such as fire use  to social action and communication.


Publications are listed by group.  Recent papers are listed below, with pdf files. I’ve tried to arrange the other papers in thematic groups or by archaeological localities (see the other pages):


Essays on human origins


History of Palaeolithic Archaeology


Recent publications

Gowlett, J.A.J. (2006).  The early settlement of northern Europe: Fire history in the context of climate change and the social brain.  In : H. de Lumley (ed.) Climats, Cultures et sociétés aux temps préhistoriques, de l’apparition des Hominidés jusqu’au Néolithique.  C.R. Palevol. 5, 1-2, 299-310. (2005 online).

Gowlett, J.A.J. Hallos, J., Hounsell, S., Brant, V. & Debenham, N.C. 2005 Beeches Pit – archaeology, assemblage dynamics and early fire history of a Middle Pleistocene site in East Anglia, UK.  Eurasian Prehistory 3,2:3-38

Preece, R.C., Gowlett, J.A.J., Parfitt, S.A., Bridgland, D.R., Lewis, S.G. 2006. Humans in the Hoxnian: habitat, context and fire use at Beeches Pit, West Stow, Suffolk, UK. Journal of Quaternary Science 21,485-496.

Gowlett J.A.J. 2005. Seeking the Palaeolithic Individual in East Africa and Europe during the Lower-Middle Pleistocene.  In: C.S. Gamble, M. Porr (eds.) The hominid individual in context: archaeological investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic landscapes, locales and artefacts. Routledge, London, 50-67.

Gowlett, J.A.J.  2004/2006.  Archaeological dating.  In Bintliff, J. (ed.) A companion to Archaeology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 197-205.

Gowlett, J.A.J.  2004/2006.  Chronology and the human narrative.   In Bintliff, J. (ed.) A companion to Archaeology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 206-234.

Gowlett, J.A.J. 2003. What actually was the Stone Age diet?  Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine 13(3), 143-147. 

Gowlett, J.A.J., Crompton, R.H. and Li Yu: 2001. Allometric comparisons between Acheulean and Sangoan large cutting tools at Kalambo Falls.  In Clark, J.D. (ed.) Kalambo Falls Prehistoric Site, Vol 3: the earlier cultures: Middle and Earlier Stone Age. Cambridge, C.U.P. pp 612-619. ISBN 0521 200717.

Gowlett, J.A.J.  2001. Out in the Cold. News and Views.  Nature 413, 33-34.

Gowlett, J.A.J.  2002. Jeanne Sept ‘Investigating Olduvai: archaeology of human origins’. The CD reviewed. Internet Archaeology.


In press

Gowlett, J.A.J. (in press 2006). The elements of design form in Acheulian bifaces: modes, modalities, rules and language.  In: Goren-Inbar, N. and G. Sharon (eds) Axe Age: Acheulian Tool-making from Quarry to Discard. Equinox, London.

Gowlett, J.A.J. (in press).  Shared intention in early artefacts: an exploration of deep structure and implications for communication and language.  Proc. African Genesis: a Symposium on Hominid Evolution in Africa.

Gowlett, J.A.J. (in press).  The deep roots of kin.  In W.James, H.Callan, R.Dunbar and N.Allen (eds) Kinship. Oxford, Blackwell.


Earlier papers often cited

Gowlett, J.A.J.  (1984). Mental abilities of early man: a look at some hard evidence.  In Foley, R.A. (ed) Hominid Evolution and Community Ecology. Academic Press, New York, pp 167-192.

Gowlett, J.A.J., Harris, J.W.K., Walton, D. and Wood, B.A. (1981). Early archaeological sites, hominid remains and traces of fire from Chesowanja, Kenya. Nature 294, 125-129.



Lucy to Language Project

Palaeoanthropology Society

Quaternary Research Association


Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator


[John Gowlett - Research] [Lucy to Language] [Books and collections] [Thematic papers] [Kilombe] [Kariandusi] [Chesowanja] [Beeches Pit] [Other projects]