Why are we the way we are?

The UCT Department of Archaeology is home to a community of researchers who investigate how people have changed through time to gain insight into why we are the way we are today. To do this, we study the cultural and biological records of the past and present to do this.

Africa is endowed with a rich and unique archaeological, fossil, and ethnographic record, giving us considerable advantage in our geographic location. Change, innovation, complexity, and adaptation identified from the continent form core ideas that thread throughout all our work. 

From 2.58 million years ago to now

Our researchers are especially interested in the dynamics of human change over the Quaternary Period, the time spanning from 2.58 million years ago to the present. This period spans a large part of our evolutionary history and incorporates the record of early ape-like hominids, the first members of our genus Homo, modern human origins, hunter-gatherer societies, farming communities, and colonists. 

Our specific areas of focus include: technological change and innovation, study of past diets and environments, understanding and reconstructing palaeoecology and the dynamics of complex social landscapes, as well as evolutionary process and the shaping of diversity. 


On the ground and in the lab

Fieldwork is an important aspect to studies within the department, including on-the-ground work like surveying, recording, and excavation of archaeological and fossil remains.

These findings are often brought back to our university facilities, where we carry out approaches such as: materials analysis, isotopic studies, genetics, lithic analysis, morphometrics, quantitative evolutionary theory, and historical artefact studies.  

Southern African context

Because our study of humans is deeply entrenched in the context of South Africa – who we are, how we arose, how our ancestors interacted – our research directly informs our understanding of modern southern Africa, and its cultural and biological diversity.

Our research also goes hand in hand with a responsibility to communicate results and interpretations to a broader community, as well as to manage the record if human evolution on which we rely.