British Academy Centenary Research Project

Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain


The social brain has become iconic for what it is to be human. Indeed, it bridges both our evolutionary history and our contemporary experience in a way that no other concept does. The Centenary Project - a collaboration between archaeologists and psychologists - set itself the remit of exploring these two axes of the human experience.

The project aimed to explore how the early hominid brain evolved from its essentially apelike beginnings among the earliest australopithecines (circa 5 million years ago) to the modern human potential of the “Upper Palaeolithic Revolution” (circa 50,000 years ago) and its final expression in the dramatic social and economic changes of the last 10,000 years.

By bringing together Palaeolithic archaeologists and evolutionary and social psychologists, together with cognate interests in behavioural ecology, social and biological anthropology, sociology, linguistics, history and musicology, the project aimed to open up an entirely new interdisciplinary approach not only to archaeology and psychology but also more widely to the humanities and social sciences.  By focussing on the inferences we can make from primary evidence, such as stone tools, and on what we can infer about social and cognitive phenomena from living humans and other primates, the project aimed to explore what it means to be human, and when and how we, as a species, came to be that way.


The Lucy-to-Language Project was funded by a seven-year programme grant from the British Academy awarded to Professor Robin Dunbar FBA, Professor Clive Gamble FBA and Professor John Gowlett, following a competitive call to celebrate the centenary of the Academy’s establishment in 1902.


The collaborative project involved the following institutions:

The project was originally a collaborative venture between the University of Liverpool and Royal Holloway, London University, but additional partnerships were created with staff at the University of Southampton and the University of Kent at Canterbury.

The Centenary Project was formally launched in October 2003 and formally ended in September 2010.

Learn more about the Project