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Francis Wenban-Smith

Principal Research Fellow of Archaeology, University of Southampton

I'm director of the Centre for Applied Human Origins at the University of Southampton. My primary research interests are human evolution and cognitive development, the Palaeolithic, Pleistocene geo-archaeology and lithic technology. All these areas overlap and coalesce in the exploration and interpretation of the material remains of the earlier prehistoric past; although the same interpretive principles apply in later periods, and I am also interested in the role of lithics in later prehistoric and proto-historic societies. My research is driven to a certain extent by the chance of where major development projects take place; but, alongside this work, I am also able to maintain activity in the areas where I have greatest interest. My work is particularly informed by my long experience of excavation on Palaeolithic sites, and by my history of practical experimentation in replication of prehistoric lithic material culture by flint knapping.

I am currently involved in a wide range of research projects, from tiny pre-development investigations of specific housing plots, for instance investigating the presence of pre-Anglian occupation in the Caversham Ancient Channel in Berkshire, to major projects such as the completion of post-excavation analysis on material recovered during construction of High Speed 1 and a survey of the Stour Basin in northeast Kent.

Since the late 1990s, I have been carrying out a combination of commercial contract and research work as part of the University of Southampton Archaeology Department, through the contracting centre CAHOR, Centre for Applied Human Origins Research. My work involves developing/leading major research projects and carrying out commercial archaeological investigations in advance of development, as a specialist in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, Quaternary geoarchaeology and lithic analysis. Commercial projects have ranged across southern England, including much work in relation to HS1, including discovery, excavation and publication of The Ebbsfleet Elephant, the undisturbed remains of a 400,000 year-old early hominin elephant butchery site. Following from HS1, there is still much archaeological work to be done in the surrounding area, most notably in conjunction with the recently proposed Ebbsfleet garden city. Other commercial projects have included fieldwork in advance of improvements to the M25, leading to discovery of the earliest Neanderthal occupation of Britain and investigations of Bronze Age activity at the site of the new 2nd runway for Manchester airport.


  • –present
    Principal Research Fellow of Archaeology, University of Southampton