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My research focuses on speleothems as palaeoclimate archives and early hominin palaeoecology in Africa.
Techniques used include:

  • stable isotopes and trace elements
  • annual-band counting
  • fluid-inclusion analysis
  • U-Th and U-Pb dating
  • Palaeodietary analysis


Current research areas

Currently my work is split into the two following fields of research:

Plio-Pleistocene climate in relation to early hominin evolution in Africa

  • Reconstructing the climatic history of Africa is the key to improving our understanding of the tropical climate system; is it also important as the environmental context of early hominin evolution. This research attempts to bridge the fields of palaeoclimatology and palaeoanthropology.
    Current projects include:
    • Annually resolved Plio-Pleistocene climate record from Buffalo Cave, South Africa
    • New program of dating and environmental work at Taung, South Africa
    • Stable isotopes in fossil carnivores as time-averaging indicators
    • Quality of the hominin fossil record

Late Pleistocene and Holocene climate of the UK

  • Quaternary speleothems can be precisely dated using U-series methods and often contain annually-resolved climate proxy data. This makes speleothems ideal for the study of rapid climate change events such as the 8.2 ka event or the Younger Dryas. Current projects include:
    • Late Pleistocene speleothem records from northern England
    • Comparison with climate model output
    • Climatic context of archaeological caves in the UK



  • 2012-2013 National Geographic Research Grant (€22,000) ‘Exploring the palaeoanthropological potential of the Dart and Hrdlicka Pinnacles at Taung, South Africa, in light of their re-interpretation as land-surface deposits’.
  • 2011-2014 NERC New Investigator Grant (£98,000) ‘Influence of Orbital Forcing on ENSO variability – new insights from an annually laminated speleothem’
  • 2010-2011 National Geographic Fieldwork Grant ($18,000) 'The Environmental and Chronological context of the Taung Child, South Africa'
  • 2010-2011 NERC Small Grant (£26,000) with Randy Parrish (NIGL) 'Dating the ‘Taung Child’ Australopithecus africanus type specimen through U-Pb measurement of associated calcite crystals'
  • 2010-2012 Co-Investigator on NSF Grant ($84,939) with Justin Adams (GVSU) 'Exploring Hoogland, Haasgat and the Plio-Pleistocene landscape of the Schurveberg Mountain Region, South Africa'
  • 2009-2010 Leakey Foundation Grant ($22,000) 'Hominins, Climate Change and Thermo-regulation: Temperature reconstruction using speleothem fluid-inclusions'
  • 2009-2010. PI on NERC NIGL facilities grant (£23,000) 'Uranium-lead dating of an oxygen isotope monsoon rainfall record from South Africa'

Philip Hopley