Prof Julia Lee-Thorp awarded the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology 2023

Head shot of Julia

The School is delighted to share the good news that Professor Julia Lee-Thorp is the recipient of the 2023 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology, awarded by the Archaeological Institiute of America. She joins a distinguished group of RLAHA staff who have won this award including: Robert Hedges (2019), Mark Pollard (2018), Mike Tite (2008) and Martin Aitkin (1997).

In recognition of her distinguished record of contributions to the advancement of archaeological science, the Archaeological Institute of America is pleased to award Dr. Julia Lee-Thorp the 2023 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology.

Julia Lee-Thorp is Professor of Archaeological Science Emeritus at the University of Oxford, Fellow of the British Academy, and Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. A leading figure in developing the field of stable isotope chemistry in archaeology, she is best known for her work on hominid diets and palaeoenvironments in deep time. After receiving Bachelors degrees (BA and BSc) from the University of Cape Town, she broke new ground with her 1989 PhD dissertation, identifying that it was possible to analyze carbon isotopes in the inorganic component of calcified tissues (i.e. enamel apatite) and not just the organic component, collagen. This discovery extended the applicable time-span of stable isotope methods from hundreds or thousands of years to millions of years. Dramatic findings followed: the diet of the early southern African australopithecine, Parathopus robustus, included noticeable amounts of C4 grasses. This unexpected dietary flexibility was subsequently found for several ancient hominid species and has engaged scholars since. At the same time, her work opened up long-term reconstructions of ancient palaeoenvironments using stable isotopes from herbivore enamel and ostrich eggshell as proxy records for vegetation and climate changes through time.

Lee-Thorp has conducted research in Africa, Europe, South America and elsewhere. She was Senior Research Officer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and then Professor at the University of Cape Town before moving in 2005 to the United Kingdom as Professor at the University of Bradford. There, as Research Director of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences, she oversaw an expansion of the Stable Light Isotope Facility. She subsequently joined the University of Oxford in 2010 as Professor of Archaeological Science and served as Head of the School of Archaeology from 2016 until her retirement in October 2019. Lee-Thorp notably fostered a large and broad network of close colleagues (almost 40 graduate students alone); her influence is particularly marked in South Africa where among other things she was a founding member of the Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering (SA WISE). Lee-Thorp is author or co-author of an important, diverse, highly interdisciplinary and influential body of work.

For all these reasons, the Archaeological Institute of America is delighted to bestow on Prof. Julia Lee-Thorp the 2023 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology.