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Alex Bentley

Professor; Associate Dean of College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies


Professor Bentley spent fourteen years at British universities: UCL, Durham University and most recently University of Bristol, where Bentley served as Professor and Head of Archaeology and Anthropology. 

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


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 computational social science.

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.

Computational social science  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 in 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.
  • Jan 2012-Aug 2014: Head 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)
  • Deputy Director, Leverhulme Tipping Points Project (2010-2011), Durham University (U.K.)

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 and complete record on Bentley's 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.

Recent Highlights:

  1. Ruck, D., R.A. Bentley, A. Acerbi, P. Garnett & D.J. Hruschka (2017) Role of neutral evolution in word turnover during centuries of English word popularity. Advances in Complex Systems 20: 1750012.
  2. Degryse, P. and R.A. Bentley (2017). Archaeological geochemistry. In (W.M. White, ed.) Encyclopedia of Geochemistry. Heidelberg: Springer.
  3. 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.
  4. Bentley, R.A. & M.J. O’Brien (2016) Collective behaviour, uncertainty and environmental change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 373 (2055), DOI 10.1098/rsta.2014.0461.
  5. 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.
  6. Bentley, R.A., M.J. O’Brien, K. Manning & S. Shennan (2015) On the relevance of the European Neolithic. Antiquity 89: 1203-1210.
  7. 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.
  8. Bentley, R.A., M.J. O'Brien & W.A. Brock (2014). Mapping collective behavior in the big-data eraBehavioral & Brain Sciences 37: 63-119.
  9. Bentley, R.A., Acerbi, A., V. Lampos, P. Ormerod (2014). Books average previous decade of economic miseryPLOS ONE 9(1): e83147.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

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