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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

James Cole is a Principal Lecturer in Archaeology and the Subject Lead for Geography and Environment within the School of Environment and Technology. James is primarily interested in Human Evolution with particular emphasis on the development of symbolism and language within hominin ancestors. In order to further his research along these themes James conducts a number of fieldwork projects in East Africa and the United Kingdom. James is a member of the Past Human and Environment Dynamics and Society Space and Environment research groups.

James has authored a number of publications including refereed journal papers and book chapters. James' research has been supported by the British Academy, AHRC, Society of Antiquaries and the University of Brighton.

James was recently awarded an Ig Nobel prize for Nutrition (2018) for his research on Prehistoric Cannibalism. More details of this can be seen here.

Approach to teaching

My teaching is focused around student engagement and discussion using specific case studies and the latest published research. I try to get my students to think for themselves, to question the status quo and engage with a wide range of published literature to formulate and support their own opinions. This is exemplified in my module ‘Human Origins and Evolution’ where students are expected to engage in class discussions on the ever changing evidence for human evolution involving Palaeogenetics, the fossil record, and the archaeological record.

I also like to encourage practical components to my teaching which is also evidenced with the ‘Human Origins and Evolution’ module where we visit the Brighton Museum collections to look at and learn from the amazing range of Palaeolithic artefacts stored there. In my first year module ‘Introduction to Archaeology’ I encourage my students to think critically on set themes and discuss their opinions and positions within an active online discussion forum. Whilst my final year module ‘Humans of Ice Age Britain’ assesses my students across a range of mediums including a presentation and extended essay on a site in Britain that plays a significant role in understanding the past behaviours of our human ancestors.

Research interests

My research interests focus around understanding the fundamental question of what it means to be human. I am interested in knowing whether certain abilities that we all take for granted such as language, symbolism, and abstract thought are unique to our species (Homo sapiens) or were present in other ancient human species such as Homo heidelbergensis or the Neanderthals. In order to ascertain this I look at a range of evidence strands but I primarily focus on the stone tools left behind by our ancestors for clues to their mental capabilities.

In order to try and understand our hominin ancestors I am involved with a number of archaeological projects here in the UK and in East Africa. My main research project is the Isimila Stone Age Project where I am the Director of a multi-institutional and international research collaboration between academic institutions in the UK and Tanzania.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Southampton

Master, University of Southampton

Bachelor, University of Southampton

External positions

Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

9 Nov 2018 → …


  • CC Archaeology
  • Human Evolution
  • Palaeolithic
  • Stone Age Archaeology
  • Cognitive Evolution
  • origins of language
  • origins of symbolism
  • Cannibalism

Fingerprint Fingerprint is based on mining the text of the person's scientific documents to create an index of weighted terms, which defines the key subjects of each individual researcher.

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Research Output 2006 2019

Earliest Europeans: Integrating Perspectives from Archaeology, Paleoanthropology and Paleoclimatology

Hosfield, R. (ed.) & Cole, J. (ed.), 2019

Research output: Other contributionResearchpeer-review

material culture
animal community

Earliest Europeans: Integrating perspectives from archaeology, palaeoanthropology and palaeoclimatology

Hosfield, R. & Cole, J., 25 Feb 2019, 208, p. 140-142 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialResearch

The Application of Elliptic Fourier Analysis in Understanding Biface Shape and Symmetry Through the British Acheulean

Hoggard, C., McNabb, J. & Cole, J., 21 Feb 2019, 2, 2, p. 115–133

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

marine isotope stage

Early hominins in north-west Europe: a punctuated long chronology?

Hosfield, R. & Cole, J., 9 May 2018, 190, p. 148-160 13 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access

Knapping in the Dark: Stone Tools and a Theory of Mind

Cole, J., 1 Jan 2018, (Accepted/In press) Squeezing Minds from Stones: Cognitive Archaeology and the Evolution of the Human Mind. Coolidge, F. L. & Overman, K. A. (eds.). New York

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterResearch

Theory of Mind
Stone Tools
Archaeological Record