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Urban Paradox: Human Evolution and the 21st Century Town

Institute of Archaeology

Friday, 21 February 2014 from 09:00 to 18:00 (PST)

Urban Paradox: Human Evolution and the 21st Century...

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urban paradox:human evolution and the 21st century town

Evolutionary Determinants of Health and Urban Wellbeing group

The town is not our natural habitat. For most of the last three million years, we evolved as hunter-gatherers, living off the land in small kin-groups and tribal societies, developing a complex working relationship with nature. Culturally, we are still adapting to urbanized living: our technologies, towns, economies and societies have developed at a remarkable speed. Anatomically, however, we have not evolved at the same electric pace: genetically, we remain much as we were before towns developed, or even before large-scale farming was adopted 5,000-10,000 years ago.

Today’s cities accommodate a global population of some 3.4 billion: there is therefore a profound dichotomy between the world we currently live in, and the one we were genetically, metabolically, physiologically and psychologically designed for. We can’t uninvent towns, nor do we wish to, but city life is, superficially, the very antithesis of the hunter-gatherers’ world.

 There is a possible solution, however. It could lie in the adoption of proxy behaviours, environments and townscapes that mimic key elements of the nutrition, daily activity, social interaction and engagement with the environment that best fit the evolutionary demands of our minds and bodies. Through applied studies, such proxy behaviours could be brought together to form a coherent protocol applied to 21st-century townscapes and urban life-styles. We call this approach the Eden Protocol, a short-hand term for the Evolutionary Determinants of health, social interaction and urban wellbeing. By facilitating the associated behavourial changes, urban wellbeing and social cohesion might be quantifiably improved, and the cost of the National Health Service diminished.

Looking back into our past could therefore provide positive answers for our future. The better our urban and societal surroundings simulate our “natural habitat”, and the better our behaviours match our biology, the healthier we urban creatures will be.                


conference     Friday 21st February 2014     UCL Institute of Archaeology


Session 1 summarises the Evolutionary Determinants of Health project, reviews its relationship to the Social Determinants of Health, looks at personal health behaviours, urban gangs and the promotion of positive behavioural change.  Session 2 looks at healthy cities and the architecture of urban wellbeing, considers physiological, psychological, biological and societal importance of urban greenspace; then at human locomotion and how buildings can be designed and town plans reconfigured to facilitate and encourage ‘evolutionary’ health behaviours.



9.15 – 9.50am: registration          

10am:   welcome


  • brave old world:       evolutionary determinants of health in the 21st -century town


Gustav Milne                 UCL Institute of Archaeology

  •  becoming human: deep evolutionary perspectives on human behaviour


  Matt Pope                     UCL Institute of Archaeology                                                                        

  •  backwards and forwards: towards a “palaeolithically-correct” behavioural science


  Ben Gardner                  UCL Health Behaviour Research Centre

 11.15-11.45am:   discussion/ coffee


  • school dinners:       introducing an evolutionary perspective in inner-city schools

Emma Karoune            UCL Institute of Archaeology                                                                         


  • play time:       football, crime and urban gangs 

Samir Singh                 Arsenal in the Community                                                                       


  • building for people:   architecture from a human perspective

Bob Allies                                 Allies & Morrison Architects: London SE1

 1-1.45pm: lunch


  • healthy cities: urban design from a human evolutionary perspective

Ian Scott                       UCL Grand Challenges          

  •  greening the city:  a physiological and psychological necessity

Jemima Stockton          UCL Dept of Public Health and Epidemiology

  •  greening the city: a biological necessity

Graham Rook               UCL Dept of Microbiology


  • the ‘all London green grid’: a green infrastructure for London

                                    Neil Davidson               Landscape Architect, J & L Gibbons

3.15-3.45pm: discussion/ tea

  •  a life less sedentary: making the office work harder

Abi Fisher                    UCL Active Buildings project


  • access all areas? social inequality and urban transport issues

Nicola Christie               UCL Transport Institute

  • streets ahead:community engagement, human locomotion and the DIY street

Paola Spivach               Senior Urban Designer, SUSTRANS

 5pm: reception

There is no charge for delegates, but places are limited and so pre-booking is ESSENTIAL


For further information on the Evolutionary Determinants of Health programme see website.



The conference is supported by the Ove Arup Foundation     



and by UCL Grand Challenges                                                                              



Further information, contact EDENinfo@ucl.ac.uk Charlotte Frearson c.frearson@ucl.ac.uk            

Do you have questions about Urban Paradox: Human Evolution and the 21st Century Town? Contact Institute of Archaeology

When & Where

Institute of Archaeology
31-34 Gordon Square
Lecture Theatre G6
WC1H 0PY London
United Kingdom

Friday, 21 February 2014 from 09:00 to 18:00 (PST)

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Institute of Archaeology

The UCL Institute of Archaeology is the largest and one of the most highly regarded centres for archaeology, cultural heritage and museum studies in Britain, as evidenced by its top position in university league tables and National Student Survey results. It is one of the very few places in the world actively pursuing research on a truly global scale. Its degree programmes offer an unrivalled variety of courses on a diverse range of topics, and wide-ranging fieldwork opportunities.  The Institute hosts events on many different aspects of archaeology and is linked to heritage organisations, museums and archaeological societies, providing an outstanding research environment for staff, students and visitors.

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Urban Paradox: Human Evolution and the 21st Century Town
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