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Prof Robert H. Layton

Professor Emeritus

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology  
Member of the Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre  


Robert Layton is an anthropologist interested in social change and social evolution, indigenous rights and non-Western art. He has carried out fieldwork in rural France and with a number of Australian Aboriginal communities.

His Ph.D. (1973) was a study of social change on the Plateau of Levier, in the French province of Franche Comté, bordering Switzerland. In 1995 he returned to the Plateau, twenty-five years after his original fieldwork, and carried out a restudy, collecting new contemporary and historical data. This research is published in his book Anthropology and history in Franche Comté: a critique of social theory (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Robert Layton lived in Australia from 1974 to 1981, working for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, and the Northern [Aboriginal] Land Council, Darwin. During this time he studied Australian rock art and helped prepare a number of Aboriginal Land Claims, of which the first was the claim to the Uluru (Ayers Rock) National Park.

This research has been published in his books Uluru: An Aboriginal history of Ayers Rock (Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1986 reissued 2001) and Australian rock art, a new synthesis (Cambridge University Press 1992). He has revisited Australia several times, working on the Hodgson Downs land claim in 1993-4 and helping to prepare the Australian Government's submission to UNESCO to place the Uluru National Park on the World Heritage List as a cultural landscape of universal value. The Uluru National Park was one of the first two indigenous landscapes to be so recognized.

Robert Layton also works on the evolution of hunter-gatherer society and culture. He is interested in the co-evolution of genes and culture, and in tracing the emergence of modern human forms of social organisation.

Since 2005 I have been collaborating with staff and students at Shandong University of Art and Design in a wide-ranging project to improve the incomes of rural artists and craftspeople in Shandong Province, China. In the course of several fieldtrips, we have collected information on the economic and cultural importance of traditional arts and crafts, their distribution in the province and the transmission of knowledge that enabled their revival since the return of the market economy in the 1980s. The university has introduced several producer co-operatives on the French model, and designed new products that use traditional methods, such as furniture created by the traditional makers of farm implements. Our eventual aim is to implement a Fair Trade system. Four papers on this research have now been published in China.

Research interests

  • Anthropology and archaeology of art
  • Evolution of social behaviour
  • Indigenous rights
  • Social change, especially among French and Chinese villagers, and Native Australians

Research groups

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Europe: Business, economy & development: agricultural policy and family farms, especially France
  • International: Language, literature, culture: Australia, Aboriginal art
  • International: Language, literature, culture: anthropology of art
  • International: Language, literature, culture: indigenous rights
  • Modern History: Rest of the World: Australia
  • Modern History: Rest of the World: indigenous rights
  • Art: Australia, Aboriginal art
  • Art: prehistoric cave art
  • Art: anthropology of art
  • Anthropology: Indigenous rights
  • Conflict and resolution: Indigenous rights
  • Anthropology: social evolution
  • Evolution: social evolution
  • Anthropology: social change and conflict in Europe
  • Conflict and resolution: social change and conflict in Europe


Authored book

Chapter in book

Journal Article