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Research group

Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins (CAHO)

Bison painting at Altamira cave

We delve into the lives of ancient hominin species, deciphering their societal structures from diverse evidence to piece together how these ancient species organised themselves as individuals and societies.

Part of Archaeology


The Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins (CAHO) was founded in 2000 and is based in Archaeology at the University of Southampton. It is a research organisation dedicated to exploring and promoting all aspects of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology and the study of human origins. Current and past members of CAHO have investigated a variety of different topics, such as global dispersals by different species of ancient humans; the technology and cognitive implications of making stone tools; the influences of climate on where and how people lived; dating the global spread of modern humans; and many other critical topics in the evolution of our species. Members of CAHO have excavated extensively in South Africa, Europe, North America, and Britain, but our work also involves looking at old museum collections, bringing often overlooked data to bear on new research questions.  

A central part of CAHO’s mission is educating future generations of Palaeolithic archaeologists. This is done through a variety of modules as part of our archaeology MA and MSc programmes. These are taught courses, on which experienced archaeologists, actively engaged in cutting edge research, take part in passing on their theoretical and practical skills to train students to become the new generation of Palaeolithic archaeologists. 

In October 2006 CAHO gained a new laboratory, in the purpose-built archaeology building, where MA teaching and CAHO seminars take place. The Wymer Laboratory, named after John Wymer one of the most prominent British Palaeolithic archaeologists, contains a huge collection of stone tools, experimental and genuine, an enormous library and equipment for presentations and seminars. All the resources are available to the students and researchers of CAHO alike. 

People, projects and publications


Professor Alistair Pike

Professor in Archaeological Science

Research interests

  • U-Th dating
  • Radiocarbon dating
  • Reconstruction of mobility using Sr and O isotopes, including time resolved measurements by laser ablation

Accepting applications from PhD students

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Dr Christopher Standish

Research Fellow

Research interests

  • Isotope Geochemistry
  • Palaeoclimate
  • Archaeological Science
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Dr Francis Wenban-Smith

Principal Enterprise Fellow

Research interests

  • My primary research interests are: 
  • hominin ecology and colonisation of Europe and Asia in the Early and Middle Pleistocene, in particular the history of settlement and cultural change through the Palaeolithic in Britain 
  • human evolution and cognitive development, Palaeolithic behaviour and material culture 
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Dr Helen Farr

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Seafaring
  • Submerged Palaeo Landscapes
  • Maritime Heritage

Accepting applications from PhD students

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Dr Jacobo Weinstock

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • - Zooarchaeology
  • - Palaeogenetics
  • - Palaeoecology
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Professor John Mcnabb


Research interests

  • My first research interest focuses on the Acheulean – the broad umbrella label under which we find the material culture of the handaxe makers, Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis (c. 1.8 – 0.3 mya). This is one of the most critical periods in human evolution as we see brain size increase from an average of c. 600 cm3 (Homo habilis) to well within the lower end of the modern human range (in some cases c. 1000 cm3). Unlike many of my colleagues I believe that it is within this period that we see one of the most important developments in cognitive evolution – the beginning of Theory of Mind (ToM). This is the ability in modern humans to anticipate the actions of others based on ‘mind reading’, comprehending the beliefs and desires of others. This includes false belief states, were another person’s actions may be based on a very different set of understandings than your own (and may well be wrong).  In other words understanding another’s perspective on something. Modern humans take this faculty for granted, but we may well be alone in the natural world in possessing it. When did it evolve? For the past decade my research has focused on exploring the evidence within the Acheulean material culture repertoire for ToM, engaging with its materiality and the evidence for the imposition of meaning onto Acheulean material culture - the ‘stuff’ that Erectines and Heidelbergs make. Primarily this has been through the development of analytical techniques with which to study handaxes. ToM and the developing projection of it through more complex social contexts (orders of intentionality) is the corner stone of the human ability to create social relations – create societies as we understand them. So my research is also rooted in exploring were, or whether, we see this in the long Acheulean time span.
  • My second research strand concerns the development of Human Origins research as an academic discipline. I study the history of Palaeolithic archaeology through the lens of Victorian and Edwardian science fiction – the so called scientific romances. These were a safe space within which to engage with uncomfortable ideas and dangerous concepts such as the notion that humans evolved from primitive ape-men, and allied to this, the late Victorian and Edwardian paranoia that our brutish ‘true’ nature lay very close to the surface. How thin was the veneer of civilization? Could it rise up and reclaim us? Think of H.G. Wells’ the Time Machine or the Island of Doctor Moreau. Race, gender and sexual politics are interwoven through many scientific romances, even the hypocrisy of polite society as critiqued in Grant Allen’s The British Barbarians. How much of the public’s understanding of Human Origins and Palaeolithic archaeology came from the fictional literature of the age, and did it feedback to influence the scientists who studied human evolution?
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Dr Rachel Bynoe

Lecturer B

Research interests

  • Human origins
  • Quaternary landscape and environmental change
  • Submerged landscapes
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