Human Origins and Palaeo Environments (HOPE)

Group Leader(s): Professor Adrian Parker

Contact: +44 (0)1865 483753

About us

The Human Origins and Palaeo Environments (HOPE) Research Group is an international group exploring the interface of climate changes and landscape dynamics in diverse global systems. Our strength is in investigating human-environment interactions and past climate dynamics and responses. HOPE team members possess a broad range of skills and expertise including: climate change, geoarchaeology, palaeobotany, biological anthropology, archaeology and organic geochemistry. These core cross-cutting, interdisciplinary research strengths underpin our research outputs. They allow us to drive forward novel methodological techniques in Quaternary science, such as pollen geochemistry, sedaDNA, tephrochronology and lithic analysis. Our world-leading research draws upon our numerous productive international and national partnerships, including analytical facilities and academic collaborators.

Dr Simon Underwon sediment sampling at Grassridge, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Related courses

Research impact

Over the past 10 years, collaboration with academic partners, societies and external organisations has underpinned our research at Oxford Brookes. Today we engage with a wide variety of international partners from commercial organisations, print and broadcast media, national, international heritage bodies and museums, tourism and community groups. The geographical range and diversity of our projects continues to grow internationally and we are currently engaged in working relationships with a number of partners including the British Geological Survey, Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MOHC) in Oman, the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, Sharjah Archaeology Authority, MoD Cultural Property Protection Working Group and the Oman Botanic Gardens.

Co-production of knowledge involves staff directly developing research with organisations. This has led to improved knowledge and management of the landscape and environment, whether natural or cultural. Our research also reaches beyond traditional users and impacts on the professional and commercial sectors.

In Jordan, for example, research by Bill Finlayson and Sam Smith is leading capacity building for Jordanian researchers, building cultural resource management capacity in the Department of Antiquities including the creation of a research centre. This is enabling increased interest in prehistory within Jordan, which is helping to support the growth of tourism (local and international) in southern Jordan. This project was shortlisted for the Newton Prize set by the UK government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.


Adrian Parker

Professor Adrian Parker

Professor in Geography

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Simon Underdown

Professor Simon Underdown

Professor of Biological Anthropology

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Name Role Email
Dr Wes Fraser Reader in Physical Geography
Dr Selin Nugent Assistant Director - Centre for AI, Culture and Society
Professor Adrian Parker Professor in Geography
Dr Ash Parton Reader in Physical/Environmental Geography
Dr Gareth Preston Research Fellow
Dr Chris Satow Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography
Dr Sam Smith Reader in Anthropology
Professor Simon Underdown Professor of Biological Anthropology
Dr Joseph (Joe) Williams Interim Programme Lead in Anthropology and Geography. Senior Lecturer in Physical/Environmental Geography


Name Thesis Title Supervisors Completed
Sophie Edwards A Comparison of Craniodental Morphology of Hominoids of the Late Miocene and Early Pliocene in relation to Contemporary Climate Change and Paleoecological Shifts Professor Adrian Parker, Dr Sam Smith, Professor Simon Underdown


Kira Raith Quaternary climate change and landscape evolution of Southeast Arabia Professor Adrian Parker, Dr Ash Parton, Dr Gareth Preston



Name Role Organisation
Dr Jean-Francois Berger Senior Researcher CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), Lyon II
Dr Barry Lomax Lecturer in Environmental Science, Faculty of Science University of Nottingham
Sophie Mery Directeur de Recherche CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), Rennes
Professor Charles Wellman Professor of Palaeobiology University of Sheffield


Active projects

Project title and description Investigator(s) Funder(s) Dates

Analysis of sustainability and reorganisation of Arabian coastal Neolithic socio-ecological systems

This project focuses on the environments and mobility of coastal human communities during the Arabian Neolithic (8200 - 4800 BP) and builds on the existing collaborations Parker and Preston have established with the French Archaeological Mission in the UAE, since 2012. We are developing an integrated approach incorporating evidence from Neolithic occupation sites and their immediate surroundings to wider regional contexts. Neolithic Eastern Arabia offers an abundance of stratified archaeological data (preserved in shell middens), excellent preservation of coastal environmental archives (lagoons, sabkhas), and climate records preserved in speleothems and lake archives.

Dr Jean-Francois Berger, Sophie Mery, Professor Adrian Parker, Dr Gareth Preston ANR From: November 2016
Until: December 2021

Rewriting the Prehistory of Jordan

The prehistoric archaeology of Jordan provides evidence of some of the most momentous achievements in the human past. From traces of the initial forays by our ancient ancestors who left Africa many millions of years ago, though the beginnings of agriculture and settled village life and culminating in the remains of some of the world’s first towns and temples, Jordan’s prehistory is of global significance. Within Jordan, however, prehistoric archaeology is given far less attention than the archaeology of later periods such as the famous cities of Roman Jerash or Nabatean Petra. Too often prehistoric archaeology in Jordan seems to be the preserve of international researchers and is only of marginal interest or benefit to local communities. Presently Jordan’s rich prehistoric heritage is threatened and under-utilised resource.

Dr Sam Smith AHRC From: February 2019
Until: January 2022

Barqa Epipalaeolithic

Within the dune fields known as the Barqa, located to the south of Faynan, a huge scatter of stone tools and their manufacturing debris have been found. These were left by Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherers, who repeatedly returned to this location between 20,000 and 11,500 years ago. During that period, the area around Barqa appears to have been a wetland environment. Its fresh water would have supported a diverse range of plants and animals, making the area especially attractive for hunter-gatherers.

Dr Sam Smith

Human-Disease Co-Evolution in Deep Time

Working with a close group of international collaborators on sites in Oman, UAE, Jordan, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe we’re exploring the co-evolution of humans and disease and how patterns of human-disease interaction in the past can be used to reconstruct human evolutionary patterns and processes. Especially the role played by diseases in shaping the adaptive environment during human evolution and the impact of disease exchange during contact between hominin species. Using a range of cutting edge techniques from ancient DNA to modern hunter-gather microbiome analysis our work is shining a light on the central relationship between humans, health and disease during our evolutionary history.

Professor Simon Underdown

A chronological investigation of palaeoenvironmental change in Wadi Iddayyah, United Arab Emirates

Fluvial systems offer considerable potential to address the current gaps in knowledge that exist in our understanding of Late Pleistocene climate change and associated early human demographics in Arabia, with evidence from some key periods limited to just a handful of spatially dispersed, terrestrial records. This project presents new independent, age-constrained, empirical data of Arabian climate change and landscape response from sites identified along a previously unexplored ~30 km section of Wadi Iddayyah, United Arab Emirates. The system is the main drainage feature within the Jebel Faya anticline, which has provided the earliest evidence of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) identified in Arabia to date (~125 ka). The implications of this work in terms of human occupation and movement across the landscape is the focus of the Co-Is current PhD research.

Dr Gareth Preston, Kira Raith IASA

Ecosystem resilience and recovery from the Permo-Triassic crisis

The principal aims of Eco-PT is to determine the cause of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, especially in terrestrial settings and investigate the nature of ecosystem rebuilding in its aftermath. Projects include seeking sulphur isotopic evidence for atmospheric impact of the Siberian Traps eruptions in terrestrial settings in North China, investigating the nature of the crisis in shallow-marine to terrestrial transitional settings, using proxies for ozone cover to see if UV radiation played a role in the crisis and climate modelling of the super-greenhouse world. Macroevolutionary and macroecological recovery process will investigate a number of factors such as trends in trait changes and morphospace occupation.

Dr Wes Fraser NERC From: January 2017
Until: December 2021

Excavating the roots of the tree of life: revealing a billion year fossil record for the euglenids

This research investigates euglenid fossils from throughout the geological column and, by demonstrating which possess the characteristic euglenid wall structure, provide a continuous fossil record for the euglenids. This will place euglenids as one of the few groups of early divergent eukaryotes with a deep fossil record (and the first of the SuperGroup Excavates). This is important because it will provide evidence for the timing and nature of the diversification of the earliest eukaryotes. It will also provide an important fossil calibration point for molecular biologists that undertake molecular clock studies. Furthermore, we are addressing a highly topical research area and our findings will fuel current controversies concerning whether the eukaryotes evolved in the ocean or in fresh water and how and when euglenids acquired their secondary endosymbiotic green alga.

Dr Wes Fraser, Professor Charles Wellman NERC From: November 2017
Until: June 2021

Solar irradiance and vegetation dynamics at the K/Pg boundary

Over the past decade, our research programme has demonstrated that the chemical composition of the pollen and spore wall is regulated by the amount of light the parent plant receives. This allows us to use the chemical changes in spores and pollen grains to track sunshine through time. By collecting high resolution samples across a broad latitudinal range we will be able to constrain the temporal and spatial dynamics of the dust cloud, testing for the first time the proposed major kill mechanism. New records of K/Pg vegetation as represented in the pollen and spore record are used to generate broad predictions about how vegetation responded to this iconic global extinction event. Specifically we will be able to test if key plant traits such as genome size or pollination strategy (wind of insect pollinated) were associated with extinction and/ or survivorship across the K/Pg in North America.

Dr Wes Fraser, Dr Barry Lomax NERC From: November 2019
Until: October 2022

Chironomid Assemblage of Devils Lake, Wisconsin, USA

Collation and interpretation of the chironomid assemblage preserved within the sediment core of Devils Lake. It will provide further insights into the local terrestrial and aquatic environment over the past 20,000 years.

Dr Joseph (Joe) Williams

Long-Term Environmental Change in the Ecuadorian Tropical Andes - Volcán Cayambe

The project investigates catchment level response to long-term environmental changes in the highly sensitive Tropical Andes biodiversity hotspot. The overall aim of this work is to provide site-specific studies of proglacial change, the associated rates and processes, and the specific linkages and feedbacks across glacier, terrestrial, and freshwater systems. Initial research was conducted in 2019.

Dr Joseph (Joe) Williams

Recent publications