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Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Professor Thomas Currie

Professor Thomas Currie

Professor of The Evolution of Social Systems & Sustainability

 01326 259028

 Stella Turk Building L04 (lower ground)


University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE


I am an interdisciplinary researcher with a background that spans the social and natural sciences. The focus of my current research involves understanding human-environment interactions and processes of change in social-ecological systems (SES), the role of institutions in enabling cooperation & the sustainable management and governance of natural resources, and the general processes that have shaped human behavioural and cultural diversity across time and space. My applied research projects address issues of sustainable community-based natural resource management and conservation. I am currently working actively with partners and local pastoralist communities in Kenya to conduct research that can inform decision-making and help communities adapt to a changing environment and be more resilient to the challenges they face. This applied work builds on strong foundations of other theoretical and fundamental research I have conducted that examines human behavioural and cultural diversity in order to understand how and why human social systems evolve. 

Broad research specialisms:

  • Sustainability & Social-Ecological Systems
  • Community-based Conservation
  • Social & Cultural Evolution
  • Human Evolutionary Ecology


PhD Anthropology (UCL),
MSc Evolutionary Psychology (University of Liverpool),
BSc Biology (University of Bristol)


2023-present Professor, Centre for Ecology & Conservation Biosciences, University of Exeter, UK
2018-2023 Associate Professor, Centre for Ecology & Conservation Biosciences, University of Exeter, UK
2015- 2018 Senior Lecturer, Centre for Ecology & Conservation Biosciences, University of Exeter, UK
2013-2015 Lecturer, Centre for Ecology & Conservation Biosciences, University of Exeter, UK
2010-2013 Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Human Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Anthropology, University College London, UK
2009-2010 Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Hasegawa Laboratory, Evolutionary Cognitive Science Research Center, Department of Life Sciences, University of Tokyo, Japan
2007 Visiting Fellow Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Research group links

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Journal articles

Walker L, Ontiri E, Campenni M, Perret C, Currie T (In Press). Multilevel Cultural Landscapes in Natural Resource Governance: a case study of community conservancies in Northern Kenya. Institutional Evolution & Organizational Complexity
Currie TE, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Fogarty L, Schlüter M, Folke C, Haider LJ, Caniglia G, Tavoni A, Jansen REV, Jørgensen PS, et al (2024). Integrating evolutionary theory and social-ecological systems research to address the sustainability challenges of the Anthropocene. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 379(1893). Abstract.  Author URL.
Perret C, Currie TE (2023). Modelling the role of environmental circumscription in the evolution of inequality. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 378(1883). Abstract.  Author URL.
Powers ST, Perret C, Currie TE (2023). Playing the political game: the coevolution of institutions with group size and political inequality. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 378(1883). Abstract.  Author URL.
Rabinovich A, Walker L, Gohil D, Njagi T, Currie TE (2023). Willingness to cooperate in shared natural resource management is linked to group identification through perceived efficacy and group norms. Environmental Research Letters, 18(5).
Flitton A, Currie TE (2022). Assessing different historical pathways in the cultural evolution of economic development. Evolution and Human Behavior, 43(1), 71-82. Abstract.
Savage PE, Passmore S, Chiba G, Currie TE, Suzuki H, Atkinson QD (2022). Sequence alignment of folk song melodies reveals cross-cultural regularities of musical evolution. Curr Biol, 32(6), 1395-1402.e8. Abstract.  Author URL.
Turchin P, Currie T, Collins C, Levine J, Oyebamiji O, Edwards NR, Holden PB, Hoyer D, Feeney K, François P, et al (2021). An integrative approach to estimating productivity in past societies using Seshat: Global History Databank. Holocene, 31(6), 1055-1065. Abstract.
Matsumae H, Ranacher P, Savage PE, Blasi DE, Currie TE, Koganebuchi K, Nishida N, Sato T, Tanabe H, Tajima A, et al (2021). Exploring correlations in genetic and cultural variation across language families in northeast Asia. Sci Adv, 7(34). Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie T, Campenni M, Ontiri E, Njagi T, Perret C, Walker L (2021). The Cultural Evolution & Ecology of Institutions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 376, 20200047-20200047. Abstract.
Whitehouse H, Turchin P, François P, Savage PE, Currie TE, Feeney KC, Cioni E, Purcell R, Ross RM, Larson J, et al (2020). A New Era in the Study of Global History is Born but it Needs to be Nurtured. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 0(0), 142-158.
Currie TE, Turchin P, Turner E, Gavrilets S (2020). Duration of agriculture and distance from the steppe predict the evolution of large-scale human societies in Afro-Eurasia. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 7(1). Abstract.
Ontiri EM, Odino M, Kasanga A, Kahumbu P, Robinson LW, Currie T, Hodgson DJ (2019). Maasai pastoralists kill lions in retaliation for depredation of livestock by lions. People and Nature, 1(1), 59-69. Abstract.
Mullins DA, Hoyer D, Collins C, Currie T, Feeney K, François P, Savage PE, Whitehouse H, Turchin P (2018). A Systematic Assessment of “Axial Age” Proposals Using Global Comparative Historical Evidence. American Sociological Review, 83(3), 596-626. Abstract.
Ellis S, Franks DW, Nattrass S, Currie TE, Cant MA, Giles D, Balcomb KC, Croft DP (2018). Analyses of ovarian activity reveal repeated evolution of post-reproductive lifespans in toothed whales. Scientific Reports, 8(1). Abstract.
Peregrine PN, Brennan R, Currie T, Feeney K, François P, Turchin P, Whitehouse H (2018). Dacura: a new solution to data harvesting and knowledge extraction for the historical sciences. Historical Methods, 51(3), 165-174. Abstract.
Francis ML, Plummer KE, Lythgoe BA, Macallan C, Currie TE, Blount JD (2018). Effects of supplementary feeding on interspecific dominance hierarchies in garden birds. PLoS ONE, 13(9). Abstract.
Turchin P, Currie TE, Whitehouse H, Francois P, Feeney K, Mullins D, Hoyer D, Collins C, Grohmann S, Savage P, et al (2018). Quantitative historical analysis uncovers a single dimension of complexity that structures global variation in human social organization. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 115(2), E144-E151.  Author URL.
Currie TE, Turchin P, Whitehouse H, François P, Feeney K, Mullins D, Hoyer D, Collins C, Grohmann S, Savage P, et al (2018). Reply to tosh et al.: Quantitative analyses of cultural evolution require engagement with historical and archaeological research. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(26), E5841-E5842.
Francois P, Manning JG, Whitehouse H, Brennan R, Currie TE, Feeney K, Turchin P (2016). A Macroscope for Global History: Seshat Global History Databank, a methodological overview. Digital Humanities Quarterly, 10
Turchin P, Currie TE (2016). Cultural group selection is plausible, but the predictions of its hypotheses should be tested with real-world data. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39 Abstract.
Turchin P, Currie TE, Turner EAL (2016). Mapping the spread of mounted warfare. Cliodynamics, 7(2), 217-227. Abstract.
Currie TE, Bogaard A, Cesaretti R, Edwards N, Francois P, Holden P, Hoyer D, Korotayev A, Manning J, Moreno Garcia JC, et al (2015). Agricultural productivity in past societies: Toward an empirically informed model for testing cultural evolutionary hypotheses. Cliodynamics: the Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution, 6(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Watts J, Greenhill SJ, Atkinson QD, Currie TE, Bulbulia J, Gray RD (2015). Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 282(1804).  Author URL.
Savage PE, Matsumae H, Oota H, Stoneking M, Currie TE, Tajima A, Gillan M, Brown S (2015). How ‘Circumpolar’ is Ainu Music? Musical and Genetic Perspectives on the History of the Japanese Archipelago. Ethnomusicology Forum, 24(3), 443-467.
Turchin P, Brennan R, Currie T, Feeney K, Francois P, Hoyer D, Manning J, Marciniak A, Mullins D, Palmisano A, et al (2015). Seshat: the Global History Databank. Cliodynamics: the Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution, 6(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Savage PE, Brown S, Sakai E, Currie TE (2015). Statistical universals reveal the structures and functions of human music. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 112(29), 8987-8992. Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie TE (2014). Developing Scales of Development. Cliodynamics: the Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution, 5(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie TE, Mace R (2014). Evolution of cultural traits occurs at similar relative rates in different world regions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 281(1795). Abstract.  Author URL.
Opie C, Shultz S, Atkinson QD, Currie T, Mace R (2014). Phylogenetic reconstruction of Bantu kinship challenges Main Sequence Theory of human social evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Abstract.
Turchin P, Currie T, Turner EAL, Gavrilets S (2014). Reply to Thomas: Diffusion of military technologies is a plausible explanation for the evolution of social complexity, 1500 BCE–AD 1500. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, E415-E415.
Currie TE (2013). Cultural Evolution Branches Out: the Phylogenetic Approach in Cross-Cultural Research. Cross-Cultural Research, 47(2), 102-130. Abstract.
Currie TE (2013). Cultural Evolution. How Darwinian Theory can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences. ANTHROPOS, 108(1), 339-340.  Author URL.
Currie TE, Meade A, Guillon M, Mace R (2013). Cultural phylogeography of the Bantu Languages of sub-Saharan Africa. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1762). Abstract.
Currie TE (2013). Inequality and Institutions: a Review Essay on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. Cliodynamics: the Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, 4(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Turchin P, Currie TE, Turner EAL, Gavrilets S (2013). War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(41), 16384-16389. Abstract.
Currie TE, Mace R (2012). Analyses do not support the parasite-stress theory of human sociality. Behav Brain Sci, 35(2), 83-85. Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie TE, MacE R (2012). The evolution of ethnolinguistic diversity. Advances in Complex Systems, 15(1-2). Abstract.
Currie TE, Mace R (2011). Mode and tempo in the evolution of socio-political organization: reconciling 'Darwinian' and 'Spencerian' evolutionary approaches in anthropology. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 366(1567), 1108-1117. Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie T (2011). The natural order?. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 9(2), 195-200.
Currie TE, Greenhill SJ, Mace R (2010). Is horizontal transmission really a problem for phylogenetic comparative methods? a simulation study using continuous cultural traits. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 365(1559), 3903-3912. Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie TE, Greenhill SJ, Gray RD, Hasegawa T, Mace R (2010). Rise and fall of political complexity in island South-East Asia and the Pacific. Nature, 467(7317), 801-804. Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie TE (2010). Tests in Time: a Review of Natural Experiments of History, edited by Jared Diamond and James A. Robinson. Cliodynamics, 1(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Greenhill SJ, Currie TE, Gray RD (2009). Does horizontal transmission invalidate cultural phylogenies?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1665), 2299-2306. Abstract.
Currie TE, Mace R (2009). Political complexity predicts the spread of ethnolinguistic groups. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 106(18), 7339-7344. Abstract.  Author URL.
Currie TE, Little AC (2009). The relative importance of the face and body in judgments of human physical attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(6), 409-416. Abstract.


Currie TE, Perret C (2023). The Cultural Evolution of Sociopolitical Organization. In  (Ed) The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Evolution, Oxford University Press (OUP).
Currie T (2019). How the Dual Inheritance of Genes and Culture Shapes Behaviour: a Critical Review with a Focus on Human Culture and Behavioural Diversity. In Hunt J, Hosken D, Wedell N (Eds.) Genes and Behaviour: Beyond Nature‐Nurture, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 27-59. Abstract.
Currie TE, turchin P, Bednar J, Richerson PJ, Schwesinger G, Steinmo S, Wacziarg R, Wallis J (2016). Evolution of institutions and organizations. In  (Ed) Complexity and Evolution Toward a New Synthesis for Economics, MIT Press.
Currie TE, Meade A (2014). Keeping Yourself Updated: Bayesian Approaches in Phylogenetic Comparative Methods with a Focus on Markov Chain Models of Discrete Character Evolution. In Garamszegi LZ (Ed) Modern Phylogenetic Comparative Methods and Their Application in Evolutionary Biology, Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.
Currie TE (2012). Using phylogenetic comparative methods to test hypotheses about the pattern and process of human social and political evolution. In Minaka N, Nakao H (Eds.) 文化系統学への招待―文化の進化パターンを探る(Cultural Genealogy - Exploring the Evolutionary Patterns of Culture), Keiso Shobo.


Brennan R, Feeney K, Mendel-Gleason G, Bozic B, Turchin P, Whitehouse H, Francois P, Currie TE, Grohmann S (2016). Building the Seshat ontology for a global history databank. Abstract.


Walker L, Avery K, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Gohil D, King J, Lalampaa T, Letaapo T, Moiko S, Njeru Njagi T, Ontiri E, et al (2019). Supporting community-based natural resource management in pastoralist societies in East Africa to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Abstract.

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I teach on a range of topics related to issues of sustainability, conservation, and human social systems. I integrate my research into my teaching activties and aim to make learning as student-centered and interactive as possible. 

Current teaching

LESM007 Global Challenges Field Course - 10-day MSci field course to Singapore examining issues around sustainable urban living, human-wildlife conflict, urban & tropical biodiversity, and wildlife trade. Previous trips have examined these issues in Hong Kong and Costa Rica. 

BIO3428 Complexity of Human Societies - 3rd year Interdisciplinary UG module for Human Sciences, Biology, and Geography students. Examines issues around cooperation and collective action in human groups. Examines how norms & institutions help people achieve collective goals, the connections between social and ecological systems, and how these concepts can be applied to specific sustainability and conservation challenges through community-based approaches. 

BIO3442 Human-Wildlife Coexistence Field Course - 2-week UG field course in Kenya for Human Sciences & Biology students. Topics covered include community-based conservation, human-wildlife conflict, conservation policy, cultural and biological diversity, sustainable use of natural resources, and national heritage

BIO2451 Evolution of Human Societies - 2nd year Interdisciplinary UG module for Human Sciences, Biology, and Geography students. Examines scientific approaches to understand human cultural diveristy.

Previous teaching:

2020- 2022   History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science. 1st Year Biology students

2013-2014    Critical Thinking & Scientific Reasoning, 2nd Year Biology students



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