Henshilwood was appointed Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Bergen, Norway in 2007 and holds a complementary Research Professorship and Research Chair at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
Since 1999 Henshilwood has published more than 40 papers in leading peer reviewed journals, volumes and books on aspects of African archaeology, especially the Middle and Later Stone Age; on the origins of language and symbolism; the effects of climatic variation on human demographics, and the epistemology of early behavioural evolution. His publications, including four in Science (3 as 1st author) in 2002, 2004, 2010, 2011 and a review article in Science in 2009, demonstrate that southern Africa was a primary centre for the early development of human behaviour mediated by symbols. He has helped lead a team of multi-disciplinary researchers to turn around, within a decade, the widely held idea that modern human behaviour originated in Europe after about 40 ka ago. Their research increasingly points to evidence for an African origin for behavioural and technological modernity more than 70 ka ago, and their publications support the DNA and skeletal data that show the earliest origin of all H. sapiens lies in Africa.
Evidence that his publications are widely cited is reflected in an ISI h-index = 15; 1082 citations; citing articles 516, average 46 citations per item, August 2011.
Since 1991 he has been principal investigator on a number of multidisciplinary projects in southern Africa for which he has received more than twenty major grants. These include:
- a three-year National Research Foundation grant (1999-2001) while at Stony Brook University, New York;
- a current four-year palaeoenvironmental reconstruction programme for the southern Cape, South Africa, funded by the Norwegian Research Council and South African National Research Foundation (2000-2010);
- a three-year Franco-South African grant from the National Research Foundation (2009-2011) to study the symbolic use of ochre in the Middle Stone Age;
- four Leakey Foundation grants;
- four National Geographic Research Committee grants;
- a National Research Foundation funded research chair at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
- A 5 year ERC FP7 grant for the TRACSYMBOLS Project (2010-2015) (PI)
These grants have provided funding for long term collaborations with an interdisciplinary team of international scientists. A major focus of his work since 1991 has been the excavation of the > 70 ka levels at Blombos Cave in the southern Cape, South Africa, and has provided evidence for among the earliest known marine shell beads, engraved ochres and bone tools. This project has contributed significantly to the international debate on the origins of what is considered modern human behaviour.
He has recently been awarded a 5 year (2010 – 2015) European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (FP7 programme) for €2.5m with co-PI Francesco d’Errico (University of Bordeaux, France). The aim of the project, with the acronym TRACSYMBOLS, is to examine how key behavioural innovations emerged among Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis in southern Africa and Europe respectively, and explore whether and how environmental variability influenced this development between 180 – 25 ka [Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 6 – 3]. They have been joined by a team of interdisciplinary researchers at the Universities of Bergen, Bordeaux, Royal Holloway and the Witwatersrand.
International & National Contributions
In 1999 Henshilwood founded the African Heritage Research Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, under the patronage of Dr. Nelson Mandela, to promote archaeological research on the origins of H. sapiens in southern Africa. In 2001 he was honoured at the opening of the South African parliament by President Thabo Mbeki for his research in African archaeology. In 2008 he was awarded a 15-year South African Research Chair in the Origins of Modern Human Behaviour at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation. He was accepted as a member of the South African Academy of Science in 2009.
- From 1999 – 2007 he was a research member of the Origin of Man, Language and Languages CNRS-ESF programme, based in Bordeaux, France. As a result of his contribution to French culture in general, and his work within this programme, he was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French Prime Minister in 2003.
- In 2010 he received a 5 year grant, as PI with co-PI Francesco d’Errico, from the European Research Foundation, FP7 programme to research the origins of behavioural modernity and the effects of climate change in Africa and Europe.
Review and Dissemination
He regularly referees manuscripts submitted to peer reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, Antiquity, Current Anthropology, Journal of Human Evolution, Journal of Archaeological Science and the Journal of African Archaeology. He is also a reviewer for funding applications for the European Science Foundation, European Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, The Wenner-Gren Foundation and National Geographic Society.
His research has been widely disseminated in television, film and the popular press, including television productions on BBC, National Geographic, Japanese, Scandinavian and other European channels, a feature film on Blombos Cave in 2008 produced by the American Museum of Natural History for their Hall of Ancestors permanent display, at least three hundred articles in international newspapers including front page articles in the Times and, New York Times, and numerous articles in popular journals including Scientific American, National Geographic and Time. In 2009 the Smithsonian Museum, Washington, invited him to contribute material culture recovered from Blombos Cave for their permanent exhibition. He has been invited to give plenary or opening lectures at numerous international conferences, press conferences, on international live television and radio broadcasts and has delivered many invited papers to specialised and general audiences in Europe, the USA, Canada, Africa and Asia.
New interdisciplinary approaches
Since 1991 has directed excavations at Stone Age sites in South Africa, in particular Blombos Cave, assisted by an international team of researchers composed of archaeologists, dating specialists, archaeozoologists, climatologists, marine biologists, botanists, palynologists and micromorphologists. Excavations at an additional site Klipdrift Shelter, situated in the southern Cape, and the interdisciplinary work at the laboratories in the research group at the University of Bergen, greatly increase the opportunity to promote interdisciplinary interaction among local and international scientists.
He is the PI of new excavations at a Middle Stone Age site, Klipdrift Shelter, situated in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, southern Cape South Africa. In 2011 deposits from the Howiesons Poort period were discovered at the site. These probably date to 65 – 60 ka.