The Curl Lectureship is awarded biennially by the Council of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Preference is given to a topic from the fields of biological anthropology, archaeology, material culture, ethnomusicology and linguistics; and to a person in the early stage of their career.

Prior Recipients

The following RAI lectures have been recorded and are available online to listen to or download. Videos of other RAI events are available on our YouTube channel here.

2023 Curl Lecture by Dr Maxime Brami

Migration and the Diffusion of Culture: A Reappraisal

Dr Maxime Brami, Palaeogenetics Group, Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution (iomE), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Mainz, Germany

Archaeology has long looked to other disciplines to generate new ideas. In recent years, the dominance of archaeology over interpretations of prehistory has been challenged by exciting new ancient DNA studies that claim to show wholesale population replacements in prehistoric Europe associated with new cultural horizons. Such broad-based interpretations, often reported in sensationalist and arguably simplistic terms, are nonetheless both valid and popular. How then do we locate them in relation to pre-existing, often long-held archaeological models? Using examples from my own research, I examine how archaeology and ancient DNA can be used together to renew interpretations of prehistory. ‘Folk migrations’ of the type detected by genetics today almost certainly triggered the widespread diffusion of Neolithic practices in Europe, long associated with sedentism and the development of agriculture. Recent archaeogenetic research into the populations of the famous site of Lepenski Vir in Serbia suggests the presence of such migrant farmers, unsettling long-held interpretations of the site as Mesolithic. Without returning to some of its inter-war excesses, notably the hyper-diffusionist model of culture change,  the evidence from genetics suggests archaeologists should once again revisit the role of migration in interpretations of our deep human past.

2021 Curl Lecture by Dr Rachel Crellin

Posthumanist feminist archaeology: a becoming

Dr Rachel Crellin, University of Leicester

This paper explores the potential of posthumanist feminism in archaeology. I argue that our discipline, our present world, and our futures all require a new theoretical approach to the study of the past. Archaeology, rooted in colonialism and beset with inequalities needs a new approach that makes space for more diverse archaeologists and more different voices. Our world is falling headlong into a climate crisis whilst being marked by increasingly volatile politics that entangle discrimination, xenophobia and patriarchy: our futures can seem bleak. In this paper I suggest that rather than dwell in the negative that surrounds us we can instead seize potential of archaeology to contribute to the building of our futures. I argue that the radical potential of archaeology lies not in its ability to offer us cautionary tales about other moments in the past when climates, politics or approaches to difference have shifted but instead in its ability to allow us to think differently. I argue that an archaeology rooted in posthumanist feminism provides us with tools to help build a more diverse discipline, to tell more varied, multiple, and nuanced stories about the past, to approach difference in a new way, and to allow us to rethink the human and its place in the world.

2017 Curl Lecture by Dr Andrea Migliano

Hunter-gatherers social structure: a window into the evolution of human cumulative culture

Dr Andrea Migliano, University College of London, Department of Anthropology

What is the relationship between human cumulative culture and our unique social structure including cooperative breeding, pair-bonding, in-laws and cooperation with co-residing unrelated families? Contemporary hunter- gatherers provide a privileged window into the conditions for the emergence of human unmatched cultural abilities. Here I propose that the complex social networks of ancestral hunter-gatherers were a fundamental requirement for the evolution of human cumulative culture. The understanding of hunter-gatherers unique social structure provides new insights into cultural evolution and a new framework for comparative studies of humans and other primates.

This lecture is available here.

2011 Curl Lecture by Dr Graeme Were

On the Materials of Mats: thinking through design in a Pacific society

Dr Graeme Were, Lecturer in Museum Studies, University of Queensland

This paper examines the selective use of plant materials in design in the Pacific. It explores – through an analysis of pandanus leaf mats in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea – how makers select fibres on the basis of their capacity to articulate social relations to varying temporalities before their natural decay. J. J. Gibson’s theory of affordance and Donald Norman’s concept of mapping are critically applied for this purpose. This approach emphasizes how social and temporal relations are condensed into objects, refocusing anthropological attention towards the design process as the dynamic locus of agency [entangled in both cultural and natural processes], rather than on objects as stable entities.

The lecture is available here.