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I studied my first degree in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology at Cambridge before completing my Masters at Leeds and then returning to Cambridge for my PhD. I then went to Newcastle as a Sir James Knott Fellow, subsequently spending two years in Patagonia on a Leverhulme postdoctoral grant before taking up a lectureship at Newcastle. I have been at the University of York since 2004, becoming a Senior Lecturer in 2012.
I have directed a major excavation project at Mesolithic sites in the Pennines, and underwater archaeological fieldwork in the North-East. I am fascinated by many issues in early prehistoric archaeology and small scale ethnographic societies, particularly those concerned with social and cognitive evolution, in particular the evolution and role of social emotions and their influence prehistoric social dynamics. My early research centred on Mesolithic northern England where I retain an interest and enthusiasm, although I'm best known for my later research into the emergence of autism and the evolution of empathising and compassion in the Palaeolithic.
Penny's recent and upcoming publications reflect her interest in social-emotional dynamics in past societies. She has a recent paper in Cambridge Archaeological Journal on autism in prehistory, in Journal of World Prehistory on the role of prestigious leaders in mesolithic societies, in Time and Mind on the evolution of compassion and its identification in the past and in World Archaeology on the role of trust and reputation in palaeolithic handaxe form.
Penny has also pioneered research on GIS based landscape interpretation, extending this to incorporate site based stratigraphic modelling. Using material from her work at March Hill, she has been a leader in the development of new analytical and interpretative approaches to hunter-gatherer sites, a role reflected in her co-editing (with Geoff Bailey) of a major volume on the Mesolithic in Europe published by Cambridge University Press.
Penny’s work on prehistoric cognition will continue alongside other projects, among them British Academy funded work on ethnographic models of Hunter-gatherer settlement in Argentina, and Leverhulme/AHRB funded research on the identification and recording of submerged landscapes in Britain.