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Alex Bentley

Department Head


Professor Bentley started Fall 2017 as the new Head of Anthropology at UTK. The previous two years he served as Professor and Department Chair at University of Houston, and before that, Bentley spent fourteen years at British universities. In the U.K. Bentley was first a postdoc at the Institute of Archaeology University College London (2001-2005), then reader Anthropology Department at Durham University (2005-2011), and then Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at University of Bristol (2011-2015), where he was also Head (2012-2014). In Fall 2011, Bentley spent a sabbatical semester at Northwestern University, in the Anthropology Departmet and Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, where he remains external faculty.

In his research (described below), Bentley has focused on culture change from Neolithic to present. His new book (with Michael O’Brien) is The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms (MIT Press, 2017).

As Department Head at University of Bristol, Bentley oversaw rebuilding towards sustained growth and international visibility, through hiring of new faculty, launching new Bachelors and Masters programs, and helping faculty build new laboratories.

At UTK, Bentley aims to help Anthropology take advantage of new cutting-edge facilities and interdisciplinary possibilities in in Strong Hall, which Anthropology shares with Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Biology, as well as support the three areas of Departmental research and teaching - biological, cultural and archaeological anthropology.


Bentley’s research involves interdisciplinary analysis of culture change, past and  present. This involves two main methodologies, one in analysis of isotopes in archaeological skeletal material, and the other in data-driven quantitative modeling of culture change.

The isotopic analysis is used, on skeletons from Neolithic societies of Europe and Southeast Asia, to reveal patterns of kinship, inequality of land access, migration and cultural change.

The other research  involves analytical modeling of cultural data sets to study contemporary cultural evolution and large-scale statistics of collective behavior change.

These two streams of research, comparing patterns of cultural change across thousands of years, are integrated Bentley’s new book (with Michael O’Brien), The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms (MIT Press, 2017).


PhD. University of Wisconsin, Anthropology 2001.

M.S.  Cornell University, Geology (Geochemistry) 1997.

M.A. Cornell University, Archaeology, 1996.

B.A.  Bowdoin College, Physics, 1992.

Professional Service

  • Sept 2015-May 2016: Chair of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston.
  • Sept 2014-Jan 2015: UG admissions officer, Dept. of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol (U.K.).
  • Jan 2012-Aug 2014: Chair (a.ka. Head of Subject), Dept. of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol (U.K.).
  • Jan-May 2013: MA Coordinator, Dept. of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol (U.K.).
  • Sept-Dec 2012: Director Undergraduate Programs, Dept. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol (U.K.).
  • Promotions Committee, Faculty of Arts, , University of Bristol (U.K.).
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies, Anthropology Dept. (2008-2011), Durham University (U.K.)
  • Chair of Anthropology Teaching and Learning Committee (2008-2011), Durham University (U.K.).
  • Durham University Research Committee (2009-2011)
  • Anthropology Alumni Relations Officer (2011), Durham University (U.K.)
  • Deputy Director, Leverhulme Tipping Points Project (2010-2011), Durham University (U.K.)
  • Faculty Periodic Review and Accreditation Panel (2009-2011), Durham University (U.K.)
  • Other administrative duties, Durham University (U.K.): Secretary of the Board of Studies; Library Officer; Anthropology Representative; Natural Sciences Exam Board; Anthropology/Archaeology Joint Committee; Joint Degrees Contact, Combined Honours Contact; Joint Honors Committee Staff-Student Consultative Committee; Teaching and Learning Committee.

Awards and Recognitions

  • 2009 Emerald Management Reviews Citation of Excellence (top 50 management articles in 2008)
  • 2008  “Celebrating success”, Durham University for contribution to research.
  • 2007 Innovative interdisciplinary teaching award, Durham University.
  • 2000  University of Wisconsin Vilas Fellowship.
  • 1998  University of Wisconsin University Fellowship.
  • 1990  Edwin Herbert Hall Physics Prize  (Bowdoin College).


Updated full record of over a hundred publications posted on my website.


  1. Bentley, R.A. & M.J. O’Brien (2017). The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms. MIT Press.
  2. Bentley, R.A., M. Earls, & M.J. O’Brien (2011). I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior.  MIT Press.

Highlights from last five years:

  1. Degryse, P. and R.A. Bentley (2017). Archaeological geochemistry. In (W.M. White, ed.) Encyclopedia of Geochemistry, in press. Heidelberg: Springer.
  2. Bentley, R.A., W.A. Brock, C.C.S. Caiado and M.J. O’Brien (2016). Evaluating reproductive decisions as discrete choices under social influence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 371: 20150154.
  3. Bentley, R.A. & M.J. O’Brien (2016) Collective behaviour, uncertainty and environmental change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 373(2055).
  4. Caiado, C.C.S., W.A Brock, R.A. Bentley and M.J O'Brien (2016). Fitness landscapes among many options under social influence. Journal of Theoretical Biology 405: 5–16.
  5. Bentley, R.A., M.J. O’Brien, K. Manning & S. Shennan (2015) On the relevance of the European Neolithic. Antiquity 89: 1203-1210.
  6. King, C.L., N. Tayles, C. Higham, U. Strand-Viđarsdóttir, R.A. Bentley, C. G. Macpherson, & G.M. Nowell (2015) Using isotopic evidence to assess the impact of migration and the two-layer hypothesis in prehistoric northeast Thailand. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 158(1): 141–150.
  7. Bentley, R.A., M.J. O'Brien & W.A. Brock (2014). Mapping collective behavior in the big-data eraBehavioral & Brain Sciences 37: 63-119.
  8. Bentley, R.A., Acerbi, A., V. Lampos, P. Ormerod (2014). Books average previous decade of economic miseryPLOS ONE 9(1): e83147.
  9. Bentley, R.A. & M.J. O’Brien (2013). Cultural evolutionary tipping points in the storage and transmission of information. Frontiers in Psychology 3: article 569.
  10. Bentley, R.A., P. Bickle, L. Fibiger, G.M. Nowell, C.W. Dale, R.E.M. Hedges, J. Hamilton, J. Wahl, M. Francken, G. Grupe, E. Lenneis, M. Teschler-Nicola, R.-M. Arbogast, D. Hofmann & A. Whittle (2012). Community differentiation and kinship among Europe's first farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109: 9326-30.

Older highlights:

  1. Bentley, R.A., C.P. Lipo, M.W. Hahn & H.A. Herzog (2007). Regular rates of popular culture change reflect random copying. Evolution and Human Behavior 28:151-158.
  2. Bentley, R.A. (2006). Strontium isotopes from the Earth to the archaeological skeleton: A review. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13: 135-187.
  3. Bentley, R.A., M.W. Hahn & S.J. Shennan (2004). Random drift and culture change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 271:1443-1450.
  4. Hahn, M.W. & A. Bentley (2003). Drift as a mechanism for cultural change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 270: S1-S4.

Contact Information

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