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Professor Paul Pettitt


BA(hons), MA, PhD (Cantab), FSA

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Professor in the Department of Archaeology214B+44 (0) 191 33 41169



I am a specialist in the European Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, with research interests in the origins and nature of Palaeolithic art and mortuary activity, chronometry, the behaviour of the Neanderthals and Pleistocene members of our own species, and the British later Palaeolithic. After reading Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham (BA 1991) I took an MA in Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (1992). Subsequently my doctoral research at Cambridge focussed on lithic technology of Middle Palaeolithic Southwest France and what it revealed about Neanderthal behaviour (PhD 1999). I was Senior Archaeologist at the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Oxford University (1995-2001) and Research Fellow and Tutor in Archaeology and Anthropology at Keble College, Oxford (1997-2003); Lecturer (2003-7), Senior Lecturer (2007-10) and Reader (2010-12) in Palaeolithic Archaeology at Sheffield University, until I joined Durham in January 2013 as a Professor of Archaeology.

I have researched various aspects of the European Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. I've worked with numerous lithic assemblages, and on the dating of Neanderthal and early modern human remains. In 2003 I co-discovered Britain's only examples of Palaeolithic cave art at Creswell Crags in the Midlands, and since then I've directed excavations at the Crags. I've also co-directed (with Mark White) excavations in the world famous site of Kent's Cavern, and with Mark I co-wrote The British Palaeolithic (2012). In recent years I've been researching aspects of earlier Upper Palaeolithic hand stencils in the caves of France and Spain, and have collaborated on the dating of Spanish cave art, a project which has identified Europe's oldest securely dated examples of figurative and non-figurative cave art. In my book The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial (2011) I proposed a long-term model for the evolution of human mortuary activity, and I'm now developing ways in which to further our understanding of early human mortuary activity and ritual in general, working with primatologists on long-term models of hominoid evolutionary thanatology. I retain an interest in radiocarbon dating within the Palaeolithic, and in the Late Upper Palaeolithic of Britain. Recently, I've begun collaborating with Durham colleague Bob Kentridge, Professor of Visual Psychology, on the psychological basis of Palaeolithic art. We currently have an AHRC-funded collaborative project with German colleagues on the 16,000-year-old engraved art on stone plaquettes from Gonnersdorf, with Lisa-Elen Meyering as post-doctoral researcher. Our Visual Palaeopsychology group has several research students working on Palaeolithic art in Spain, France and Germany.

Study the Palaeolithic at Durham

I would warmly welcome applications from students wishing to further their knowledge of the Palaeolithic at masters level, and those interested in researching aspects of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic archaeology for the PhD. I am especially keen to supervise projects in the fields of early human mortuary activity, ritual and art. Durham is an exceptionally fertile place to study and research Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology; with Mark White and Peter Rowley-Conwy we have expertise from the Lower Palaeolithic to Mesolithic, and we enjoy fruitful collaboration with various departmental colleagues working with dating methods, DNA and isotope study.

Research interests

  • Archaeology of the European Middle and Upper Palaeolithic
  • The origins and early evolution of human visual culture; Palaeolithic art
  • Evolutionary thanatology and early evolution of human mortuary activity
  • Palaeolithic chronometry
  • Neanderthal extinction and the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic Transition
  • Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Britain

Research groups

Research Projects

  • Hand stencils in Upper Palaeolithic cave art
  • Palaeolithic art and archaeology of Creswell Crags, UK
  • The emergence of Visual Culture: dating and psychology of Palaeolithic art

Esteem Indicators

  • 2021: Editorial Board member, Revista de Arheologie, Antropologie si Studie Interdisciplinaire (journal): A bi-annual archaeological journal run out of Romania and Moldova.
  • 2021: Scientific Advisory Board member (chair 2021-) SapienCE centre, Universities of Bergen and The Witwatersrand: The SapienCE centre is one of the world's leading centres for research into human behavioural evolution. The Scientific Advisory Board annually reviews the centres research, funding, teaching and outreach. I took over as chair in 2021.
  • 2016: Editorial board member, World Archaeology journal:
  • 2014: External Examiner (UG & PGT) University of Exeter:
  • 2011: Contributed to 'Many Hands' exhibition at The Royal Society:
  • 2010: Member of AHRC Peer Review College:
  • 2009: Elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London:
  • 2008: Advisory Editor, Journal of World Prehistory:
  • 2008: Convened English Heritage and Prehistoric Society Working Group on Research and Conservation Framework for the British Palaeolithic:
  • 2002: Advistory Editor, Before Farming:
  • 2000: Council Member, The Prehistoric Society:

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Evolution: Human evolution, especially Pleistocene (Ice Age), early art, origins of burial, radiocarbon dating.


Authored book

Book review

  • Bahn, P. & Pettitt, P. (2013). Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind (review article). Antiquity 87: 905-8.

Chapter in book

  • Pettitt, P. B. (2022). Peripersonal social worlds. Exploring the nature of the earliest visual cultures of African and Near Eastern Homo sapiens and Eurasian Neanderthals. In Image, Thought, and the Making of Social Worlds. Wengrow, D. Propylaeum. 63-92.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2022). The cultural ecology of fear. Human funerary cognition in evolutionary perspective. In The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology. Overmann, K. A., Coolidge, F. L. & Wynn, T. Oxford University Press.
  • Pettitt, P. (2021). Social ecology of the Upper Palaeolithic: exploring inequality through the art of Lascaux. In Social Inequality Before Farming? Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Social Organization and Prehistoric and Enthnographic Hunter-Fisher-Gatherer Societies. Moreau, L. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Conversations. 201-22.
  • Pettitt, P (2021). The origins of human visual culture: a three-stage hypothesis from babble to concordancy to inclusivity. In The Beef behind all Possible Pasts The Tandem Festschrift in Honour of Elaine Turner and Martin Street. Gaudzinski-Windheuser, S. & Joris, O. Propylaeum. 229-247.
  • Pettitt, P. (2021). Psychology and antiquity: a prehistorian's perspective. In Psychology and Cognitive Archaeology. An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of the Human Mind. Henley, T. & Rossano, M. Routledge. 155-176.
  • Pettitt, P. (2019). From corpse to symbol. Proposed cognitive grades over the long-term evolution of hominin mortuary activity. In Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology. Psychology in Prehistory. Henley, T., Rossano, M. & Kardas, E. Routledge. 512-25.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2018). The rise of modern humans. In The Human Past (4th Edition). Scarre, C. Thames and Hudson. 108-48.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2018). Palaeolithic Western and North Central Europe. In The Oxford Handbook of Prehistoric Figurines. Insoll, T. Oxford University Press. 851-76.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2016). Darkness visible. Shadows, art and the ritual experience of caves in Upper Palaeolithic Europe. In The Archaeology of Darkness. Dowd, M. & Hensey, R. Oxbow Books. 11-23.
  • Pettitt, P. (2015). Landscapes of the Dead: The evolution of human mortuary activity from body to place in Palaeolithic Europe. In Settlement, Society and Cognition in Human Evolution: Landscapes in Mind. Coward, F., Hosfield, R., Pope, M. & Wenban-Smith, F. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 258-274.
  • Pettitt, P. B., García-Diez, M., Hoffmann, D., Maximiano Castillejo, A., Ontañon-Peredo, R., Pike, A. & Zilhão, J. (2015). Are hand stencils in European cave art older than we think? An evaluation of the existing data and their potential implications. In Prehistoric Art as Prehistoric Culture. Studies in Honour of Professor Rodrigo de Balbín-Behrmann. Bueno-Ramírez, P. & Bahn, P. Oxford: Archaeopress. 31-43.
  • Pettitt, P., Rockman, M. & Chenery, S. (2015). Creswell Crags in wider context. LA-ICP-MS trace-element analysis of Final Magdalenian lithics and mobility patterns in the British Late Upper Palaeolithic. In No Stone Unturned: Papers in Honour of Roger Jacobi. Ashton, N. & Harris, C. Lithic Studies Society Occasional Paper 9. 101-12.
  • Pettitt, P. (2014). The European Upper Palaeolithic. In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Cummings, V., Jordan, P. & Zvelebil, M. Oxford Oxford University Press. 279–309.
  • Pike, A. W. G. Hoffmann, D. L., García-Diez, M., Pettitt, P. B., Alcolea, J., de Balbín, R., González-Sainz, C., de las Heras, C., Lasheras, J. A., Montes, R. & Zilhão, J. (2013). En los origenes del arte rupestre Paleolitico: dataciones por la serie del Uranio en la cuevas de Altamira, El Castillo y Tito Bustillo. In Pensando el Gravetiense: Nuevos datos para la Región Cantábrica en su Contexto Peninsular y Pirenaico. Monografías del Museo Nacional y Centro de Investigación de Altamira. 461-75.
  • Pettitt, P., Rockman, M. & Chenery, S. (2013). Lateglacial landscape use: correlation of lithic artefacts from Wey Manor Farm and Church Lammas to source region through LA-ICP-MS trace element analysis. In Two Upper Palaeolithic Sites in the Lower Courses of the Rivers Colne and Wey: Church Lammas and Wey Manor Farm. Jones, P. & Poulton, R. English Heritage and Surrey County Council. 99-106.
  • Zvelebil, M., Lillie, M. C., Montgomery, J., Lukes, A., Pettitt, P. B. & Richards, M. P. (2012). The emergence of the LBK: Migration, Memory and Meaning at the transition to agriculture. In Population Dynamics in Prehistory and Early History. New Approaches Using Stable Isotopes and Genetics. Kaiser, E. & Burger, J.Schier, W. de Gruiter.
  • Pettitt, P. B., Housley, R. & Higham, T. F. G. (2012). Radiocarbon chronology and faunal turnover in the Upper Pleistocene at Pontnewydd cave. In Aldhouse-Green, S. Walker, E. and Peterson, R. (eds.) Neanderthals in Wales. Pontnewydd and the Elwy Valley Caves. In Neanderthals in Wales. Pontnewydd and the Elwy Valley Caves. Aldhouse-Green, S., Walker, E. & Peterson, R. National Museums and Galleries of Wales.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2012). Fellow travellers on the ‘great trek’ some thoughts on British MIS3 Neanderthals and spotted hyaenas. In A mind set on flint. Studies in honour of Dick Stapert. Niekus, M. J. L. T., Barton, R. N. E., Street, M. & Terberger, T. Groeningen Archaeological Studies 16. 77-91.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2011). The living as symbols, the dead as symbols: problematising the scale and pace of hominin symbolic evolution. In Homo Symbolicus. The Dawn of Language, Imagination and Spirituality. Henshilwood, C. & d'Errico, F. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 141-162.
  • Zvelebil, M., Lukes, A. & Pettitt, P. B. (2010). The emergence of the LBK culture: search for the ancestors. In The Spread of the Neolithic to Central Europe. Groenenborn, D. & Petrasch, J. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum. 301-26.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2009). The Neanderthals. In The Oxford Handbook of Archaeology. Cunliffe, B., Gosden, C. & Joyce, R. Oxford university Press. 332-70.
  • Pettitt, P. B., Bahn, P. & Züchner, C. (2009). The Chauvet conundrum: are claims for the ‘birthplace of art’ premature? In An Enquiring Mind: Studies in Honor of Alexander Marshack. Bahn, P. Oxbow and Cambridge MA: American School of Prehistoric Research Monograph Series. 239-62.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2009). François Bordes. In Great Prehistorians: 150 years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859-2009. Hosfield, R., Wenban-Smith, F. & Pope, M. 201-12.
  • Pettitt, P. B (2009). The rise of modern humans. In The Human Past. Scarre, C. Thames and Hudson. 124-73.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2008). The British Upper Palaeolithic. In Prehistoric Britain. Pollard, J. Blackwell. 18-57.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2007). Radiocarbon dating. In Maschner, H. & Chippindale, C. Altamira. 309-36.
  • Pettitt, P. B. & Bahn, P. (2007). Rock art and art mobilier of the British Upper Palaeolithic. In Art as Metaphor: the Prehistoric Rock Art of Britain. Mazel, A., Nash, G. & Waddington, C. Archaeopress. 9-38.
  • Pike, A. W. G., Gilmore, M. & Pettitt, P. B. (2007). Verification of the age of the Palaeolithic cave art at Creswell Crags. In Creswell Palaeolithic Cave Art in European Context. Pettitt, P. B., Bahn, P. & Ripoll, S. Oxford University Press. 34-45.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2007). The living dead and the dead living: burials, figurines and social performance in the European Mid Upper Palaeolithic. In The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Knüsel, C. & Gowland, R. OxBow. 292-308.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2007). Cultural context and form of some of the Creswell images: an interpretative model. In Creswell Palaeolithic Cave Art in European Context. Pettitt, P. B., Bahn, P. & Ripoll, S. Oxford University Press. 112-39.
  • Ashley, S., Bending, J., Cook, G., Corrado, A., Malone, C., Pettitt, P. B., Puglisi, D., Redhouse, D. & Stoddart, S. (2007). The resources of an upland community in the fourth millennium BC. In Upland Landscapes of Sicily. Fitzjohn, M. London University Accordia Research Centre. 59-80.
  • Pike, A. W. G. & Pettitt, P. B. (2005). Other dating methods. In Handbook of Archaeological Method and Theory. Maschner, H. & Chippindale, C. Altamira. 337-72.
  • Pettitt, P. B. (2004). Ideas in relative and absolute dating. In Archaeology: The Key Concepts. Renfrew, C. & Bahn, P. London: Routledge. 58-64.

Edited book

  • Pettitt, P. B., Bahn, P. & Ripoll, S. (2007). Palaeolithic Cave Art at Creswell Crags in European Context. Oxford University Press.

Journal Article

Supervision students