The Friday Prof-ile: Fiona Coward

Welcome to The Friday Prof-ile – a chance to get to know some of our recently appointed Professors and Associate Professors a little better. Every Friday, we’ll be asking a different person the same set of questions to get an insight into their life, work and what makes them tick. 

This week, we’re chatting with Associate Professor in Archaeological Sciences, Fiona Coward… 

Fiona Coward looking at the head of a dinosaur model

Fiona Coward

  • What are your research interests? What made you want to study these areas?

I’m interested in how humans evolved – not just our physiologies, but also our brains and behaviour. In particular, I’m interested in how human social lives have evolved; all primates and especially Great Apes, our closest living relatives, are highly social animals, but human social lives are global in scale, and I study how the way our ancestors made a living have shaped our sociality and cognition. I’m particularly interested in the role material culture – aka stuff, or objects – plays in this process. Are practices such as crafting, technology, trade, exchange and gifting a key part of what makes us human?

  • What has been your career highlight to date? 

Getting to walk casually through a door in the Natural History Museum marked ‘staff only’ and wander through the ‘backstage’ areas going through drawers!

  • What are you working on at the moment?

I’m looking at the origins of urban living. Humans as a species have been around for about 300,000 years and for most of that time we lived in very small groups that moved frequently across the landscape to find food by hunting and gathering. Why, then, in just the last 20,000 years or so (the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms!), have we suddenly become a majority urban, agricultural species? What were the implications of this change in lifeways for the wider ecosystem, and are there lessons we can learn from understanding how and why early villagers and farmers lived that might help mitigate our impact on the world today, and hence help us face the current climate crisis?

  • If you weren’t an academic, what would you be doing? 

I would probably be a data analyst in the civil service – they offered me a job right after Bournemouth University did!

  • What do you do to unwind?

Reading, writing and watching fantasy and science fiction, and singing along (badly but loudly) to unfashionable music.

  • What’s the best thing about Bournemouth?

The seafront! Also, it’s a small, friendly community with lots of beautiful landscape easily accessible, but also in easy reach of bigger cities if required. Perfect!

  • If you could pick any superpower, what would it be and why? 

An everlasting notebook and pen. OK, I cheated there a bit. If I’m not allowed to cheat, then a bar of Divine milk chocolate and gingerbread.

  • What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Not being a d**k does actually pay off!