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Dr Thembi Russell

Academic Position: Senior Researcher & Curator, Archaeological collections, Honorary Senior Research Associate, University College London.

Qualification: PhD

Office:  4, Origins basement

Tel: 011-7176592


Research Interests:

I am interested in the spread of food production in southern Africa during the Later Stone Age and its associated archaeology, including rock art. As part of this I am collaborating with Professor James Steele and Dr Fabio Silva to model the large scale dispersal of sub-Saharan Africa’s first farmers. I’ve recently started a project to explore and map indigenous and historic South African place names to try to understand the relations and processes that led to their adoption or rejection by colonizers.


I teach parts of the third year module, The Archaeology of Death and the second year module, Osteoarchaeology.

Postgraduate supervision:


Faye Lander, doctoral candidate, The spread and settlement of early farmers during the Later Stone age in southern Africa.


Faye Lander, MSc. An investigation into the painted sheep imagery of the northern Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal, Southern Africa.


Hilary Geber, Hons, A life history approach to understanding artefacts from the University of the Witwatersrand Archaeology Collection.


Nandi Masemula, Hons, Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen Isotope Analyses of Inland Holocene People of the Northern Cape, South Africa.

Faye Lander, Hons, An investigation into the rock engravings of Ayanae Nangilo, northern Kenya.

Publications (2010-present):  please list publication according to the Harvard ref style

Journal articles (peer-reviewed)

Russell, T and Lander, F. 2015. ‘What is consumed is wasted’: from foraging to herding in the southern African Later Stone Age, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 50:3, 267-317, DOI: 10.1080/0067270X.2015.

Russell, T and Lander, F. 2015. ‘The bees are our sheep’: the role of honey and fat in the transition to livestock keeping during the last two thousand years in southernmost Africa, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 50:3, DOI:10.1080/0067270X.2015.1051793

Lander, F and Russell, T. 2015. Fat-tailed sheep and thin-walled pots: contextualising rock art and non-agriculturist pottery within the last 3000 years in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Southern African Humanities 27: 113–63

Russell, T., Silva, F. and Steele, J. 2014. Modelling the spread of farming in the Bantu-speaking regions of Africa: an archaeology-based phylogeography. PLoS ONE 9(1): e87854. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0087854

Russell, T. 2013. Through the skin: exploring pastoralist marks and their meanings to understand parts of East African rock art. Journal of Social Archaeology 13(1): 3-30.

Russell, T. 2012. No one said it would be easy. Ordering San painting using the Harris Matrix: dangerously fallacious? A reply to David Pearce. South African Archaeological Bulletin 67: 267-272.

Russell, T & Kiura, P. 2011. A re-consideration of the rock engravings at the burial site of Namoratung’a south, Northern Kenya and their relationship to modern Turkana livestock brands. South African Archaeological Bulletin 66: 121-128.


Forthcoming  publications

Silva, F. Russell, T. and Steele, J. Archaeological modelling of large-scale dispersals in

prehistory: an application to the farming/language dispersal hypothesis in sub-Saharan Africa. In

Crevels, M., Hombert, J.-M. and Muysken, P. (eds) Language Dispersal, Diversification, and Contact: A

Global Perspective. Oxford University Press.