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Professor Robert Foley FBA

Professor Robert Foley, FBA

Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies

Leverhulme Professor of Human Evolution

Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for the Cambridge Language Sciences Strategic Initiative

Human evolution and language

Evolutionary ecology of language and cognitive evolution

Social evolution

Human cultural diversity

Linguistic phylogeny

Office Phone: (+44) (0)1223 764704

Research Interests

My research focuses on the evolutionary and ecological underpinnings of humans, their adaptations and behaviour, and their evolutionary history. This research has ranged from early hominins to the evolution of modern human and their diversity, and included archaeological, morphological and genetic approaches. I have a particular interest in the development and application of general evolutionary models to human evolution. Language, as a key element in human evolution, is an important area of research in this field, comprising both the origins and evolution of language itself, and also the processes of linguistic diversification. Current projects with Marta Mirazón Lahr, include the evolution of human diversity, modelling cultural boundaries, Late Quaternary human evolution in West Turkana, the prehistory of the Central Sahara (Libya), and the evolutionary ecology of lithic technology.


  • Anthropology
  • Human evolution


Key Publications

Foley, R.A. & Lahr, M.M. (2011). The evolution of the diversity of cultures. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366, pp. 1080-1089.

Dunn, M., Terrill, A., Reesink, G., Foley, R.A. & Levinson, S.C. (2005). Structural phylogenetics and the reconstruction of ancient language history. Science 309, pp. 2072-2075.

Monnott, M., Foley, R.A. & Ross, E. (2004). Affective prosody: whence motherese? Behavioral & Brain Sciences 27, pp. 518-519.

Foley, R.A. (2004). The evolutionary ecology of linguistic diversity in human populations. In: Jones, M. (ed.) Traces of Ancestry: studies in honour of Colin Renfrew. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Foley, R., & Gamble, C. (2009). The ecology of social transitions in human evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1533), 3267–3279. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0136