My research interest lie primarily in the analysis of mobility and dispersals in past hunter-gatherers, and in the development of what is often called "behavioural modernity" (the traits that archaeologists believe characterise humans today, such as language, music, symbolism, complex long-distance social networks). Was "behavioural modernity" restricted to Homo sapiens, our own species, or did other hominin species, such as Neanderthals, show evidence of some of these traits as well? Were these "modern" traits present as a coherent package from the start, or did they arise piecemeal in different places and at different times? How does the process of innovation and transmission of ideas operate in mobile societies? The intermittent representation of some of the key behavioural traits in the Palaeolithic archaeological record can be linked to mobility, dispersal and interaction patterns in hominins, set against a background of environmental and climatic change. These ideas will be explored more between 2013 and 2016, with a recently-funded Leverhulme Trust project <Palaeolithic Origins of Ceramic Technology: innovative and creative revolutions>, which aims to study in detail the manufacturing and aesthetic choices made by the Palaeolithic manufacturers of figurines (40,000-10,000 years ago) in Eurasia and North Africa. The apparent invention of ceramic figurines in different places and at different times within the late Palaeolithic will be tested, as will alternative hypotheses (e.g. transmission of ideas between spatially and temporally separated populations).
For more than 16 years I have been closely involved in the reconstruction of past environments and climates, and the relationship of those models to the late Palaeolithic record (60-8 thousand years ago). How did our hunter-gatherer ancestors respond to climatic and environmental change during the last Ice Age? We should not suppose that Palaeolithic peoples simply endured whatever climates and environments characterised their landscapes; instead, much evidence points to active responses being made by these hunter-gatherers in deciding which environments and resources to exploit. Improving the quality of our archaeological dating is crucial to enable us to relate past hunter-gatherer decisions and interactions to contemporary environmental conditions. Thus, since 2004 I have thus been closely involved in three NERC-funded projects designed to improve our chronologies for the period 60-8 thousand years ago.
Affiliate research group(s)
Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins
This research consortium, involving scientists from four institutions in the UK (the Geography and Earth Science Departments of Royal Holloway University of London, the School of Archaeology in Oxford University, the National Oceanography Centre and the Department of Archaeology in University of Southampton, and the Natural History Museum), has been awarded £3.4 million to develop a novel approach to assessing how humans may have responded to rapid environmental changes in the recent past.
Promoting digital solutions to rock and cave art research
This 18 month project (2014-2015), funded by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant, aims to advance rock art research through the application of state-of-the-art imaging technologies.
This project has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RGP - 2013-073) and will run for three years from May 2013. It is the first comprehensive and comparative analysis of the more than 10,000 ceramic figurines found across Eurasia and North Africa dating to the late Palaeolithic (c.40,000-13,000 years ago).
Dr William Davies
Faculty of Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
Telephone:(023) 8059 9408
Facsimile:(023) 8059 3032