Richard M. Bailey

Research pages

Palaeoanthropology & Archaeology

Examples and brief details of past and ongoing projects are given below. Many of the interesting ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions in archaeology and physical anthropology can be re-phrased in terms of ‘when’ questions. Again, the connecting theme in the projects described below is the use of optical dating to provide chronological frameworks within which hypotheses can be tested and histories developed.


Previous project: The Hofmeyr skull and the evolution of modern humans


A number of genetic studies of living people indicate that modern humans evolved in Africa 150-200,000 yrs ago and that a relatively small group of these moved out of Africa to colonize Europe and Asia between 65 000 and 25 000 years ago. However, some other DNA evidence argues against this Africa origin and exodus model, suggesting that archaic, non-African people, such as the Neanderthals of Europe, made significant contributions to the genomes of modern humans in Europe and Asia. The "out of Africa" genetic theory predicts that humans similar to those who lived in Europe and Asia should also be found in sub-Saharan Africa during this colonization period (25-60,000 yrs ago). However, the lack of fossil evidence from sub-Saharan Africa meant that these two competing genetic models of human evolution could not be tested by palaeontological evidence. The Hofmeyr skull (found at the southern tip of South Africa - see map to the right) has a very close affinity with the fossil skulls of Europeans of the Upper Palaeolithic (the colonization period) and was dated, using a combination of optical and uranium-series methods, to approximately 36,000. The Hofmeyr skull, therefore, provides the first sub-Saharan fossil evidence against which the competing genetic theories can be tested and provides strong support to the ‘Out of Africa’ model.

These results were covered extensively by the world press (examples: New York Times, Science Magazine news, National Geographic, Cape Times, South Africa ) and made Time Magazine’s Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of 2007 (#8).

F.E. Grine, R.M. Bailey, K. Harvati, R.P. Nathan, A.G. Morris, G.M. Henderson, I. Ribot, A.W.G. Pike (2007) Late Pleistocene human skull from Hofmeyr, South Africa, and modern human origins. Science 315, 226-229.                            


Previous projects: Earliest pottery, from the Russian near East? & Human occupation of the Caucasus region


Luminescence methods were used to provide estimates of the firing age of pottery from Gasya (Russian Far East), with additional age control from radiocarbon dating of organic material used to temper the pottery. With dates older than 8,500-10,000 yrs, it is possible that the Russian Far East may represent the earliest independent centre of pottery production within East Asia, and that this early Neolithic pottery is among the oldest in the World. With the present precision on the dates, it is not possible to establish whether or not this early pottery predates Incipient Jomon pottery sites in the southern Japanese Islands (Kyushu and Shikoku) (approx. 10-13,000 yrs ago) or the earliest Chinese pottery from south of the Yangtze River (approx. 14,000-15,000 yrs ago).

The territory of present day Armenia is a geographic contact zone between the Near East and the northern Caucasus. This work focused on developing a preliminary chronology for the Armenian Middle and Upper Paleolithic records, allowing correlation of these records with those from other neighboring regions. The project involved luminescence, U-Th, and radiocarbon dating at the Hovk 1 Cave in northeast Armenia. We found evidence for an early Middle Paleolithic occupational phase, optically dated to 90-110,000 yrs ago and a Paleolithic occupational phase dated by radiocarbon to approximately 40,000 yrs ago. The two phases are separated by a hiatus in hominin occupation, corresponding to MIS 4 and an episode in early MIS 3. These data, together with preliminary paleoenvironmental reconstructions, suggest that these activity phases represent short-lived and seasonal use of the cave presumably by small groups of hunters during episodes of mild climate.


Kuzmin Y., Hall S., Tite M., Bailey R. M., O’Malley J and Medvedev V. (2001)  Radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating of the pottery from the early Neolithic site of Gasya (Russian far east): initial results.  Quaternary Science Reviews, 20.

Pinhasi, R., Gasparian, B., Wilkinson, K., Bailey, R.M., Bar-Oz, G., Bruch, A., Chataigner, C.,  Hoffmann, D., Hovsepyan, R., Nahapetyan, S., Pike, A.W.G., Schreve, D., Stephens, M. (2008) Hovk 1 and the Middle and Upper Paleolithic of Armenia: a preliminary framework. Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 55, Issue 5, 803-816.


Some ongoing projects: further details to be added as projects progress


Ancient humans in the Caucasus


The project, with a focus on the Caucasus region, aims to provide key data on the migration, occupation and development of Neanderthals in this key region, which is central in the Neanderthal geographic range. The project will also explore the nature of the relationship between Neanderthals and modern humans, providing information key to interpreting the pattern and process of early human evolution

In collaboration with Dr Ron Pinhasi, Prof. Dan Adler, and others.


Faunal dispersal, extinction and palaeoenvironmental change in Southeast Asia


This project will provide new information on the timing of faunal dispersals in southern China and Southeast Asia over the last 300,000 yrs, during periods of widespread paleoenvironmental change. For example, the expansion of the rainforests in this region brought about by the variable climatic conditions enticed fauna (and humans) into this region, causing faunal turnovers, extinctions and creating new faunal assemblages.  The timing of these events is largely unknown and the timing of these dispersals, according to the Southeast Asian evidence, is much younger than the equivalent Chinese and Australian chronologies.

In collaboration with Dr Kira Westerway (MacQuarie University, Sidney, Australia), and others.


Artist’s reconstruction

(credit to Luci Betti-Nash)