Penny Spikins
Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origins



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.  



  • Human Origins and Early Prehistory
  • Cognitive and Social Evolution
  • Hunter-gatherer populations (Archaeology of north-west Europe and southern South America in the early Holocene, Ethnographic approaches)

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.

Current projects

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.    

  • 2007–2009 Submerged Landscape Archaeology of the Continental Shelf, Leverhulme Trust
  • 2008 - ongoing Lithics analysis and social dynamics (microwear and detailed reconstruction of lithic distribution patterns at March Hill), with Ivan Briz (Barcelona, Spain) and Myrian Alvarez (Ushuaia, Argentina)
  • 2004-2006, Models of hunter-gatherer settlement patterns: Analysis of ethnohistorical records of hunter-gatherer settlement in Tierra del Fuego, with Liliana Manzi (Argentina), funded by the British Academy
  • 2003- SALT (Submerged Archaeological Landscapes Team). AHRB and School of Historical Studies (Newcastle University)
  • 2001-2002, Early Colonisation of South America: a preliminary assessment of the Serra da Capivara National Park region ( Brazil ). British Academy
  • 1993-1996 (fieldwork), West Yorkshire Mesolithic Project. English Heritage, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service (Wakefield Metropolitan District Council), The National Trust
  • 1998 - Central Patagonian hunter-gatherers. Leverhulme Trust (1998-2000)



First Year

  • contributor to Prehistory to the Present (Palaeolithic)

Second Year

  • Themes in Prehistory: Palaeolithic Themes
  • Practical Skills: Professional and Management Skills
  • Team Project: Professional and Management Skills

Third Year

  • Assessed Seminars: Neanderthals
  • contributor to Human Evolution


  • MSc in Early Prehistory - degree programme co-ordinator
  • core module: Evolving Minds and Societies
  • core module: Hunter-Gatherers
  • contributor to the MSc in AIS

External activities


Editorial duties

Editorial board of Yorkshire Archaeological Journal

Invited talks and conferences

Invited talks and conferences 2011-12 academic year

  • Oxford Department of Archaeology (Oct 2011)
  • Sheffield Department of Archaeology (Oct 2011)
  • GEOS Galway, Ireland (March 2012)
  • Invited chair of Evolution and Spatial Analysis session of Spatial Analysis in Archaeology, Barcelona, June 2012

Media coverage

2010-11 academic year

  • Interviewed by the Today Programme, BBC World Service, Radio Canada, and featured in all national newspapers and in many international newspapers (research on compassion)

2011-12 academic year 

  • Featured in New Scientist article 'Misfit Minds' November 2011 and subsequent media stories (research on autism)

Penny Spikins 218

Contact details

Dr Penny Spikins
Department of Archaeology
University of York
The King's Manor

Tel: (44) 1904 433962
Fax: (44) 1904 433902