Pete Allen is in the first year of his doctorate, which is being fully-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and is really looking forward to getting stuck into his research, which he hopes will enable him to draw fascinating conclusions about the hunting behaviour of early humans.
His study, entitled: Investigating and visualising the effects of environment on prey detection rates: A key variable in human evolution will examine how early humans - from the Oxygen Isotope Stage 3, which occurred between 35,000 and 55,000 years ago - located their prey. Pete is taking an innovative approach to this research, which embodies collaboration across disciplines - he is recreating environments from this time period virtually and then getting participants in his study to interact with them.
Building these virtual realities will give him an incredible amount of control over what participants see, allowing him to recreate a wide range of scenarios and environments and develop a comprehensive picture of how early humans interacted with their environment in relation to their hunting activities.
“We can control various aspects of these environments, in particular the types and densities of vegetation within them,” he explains. “By analysing how participants move through each environment, and what visual search strategies they employ in order to locate the prey, we can determine the effects that different environments have on their ability to detect, and ultimately hunt, their prey.”
This will provide a fascinating insight into the behavioural patterns of early humans, something that can be difficult to discern using more traditional archaeological methods.
He is preparing to run the first set of experiments in the coming months, with the virtual environments almost ready to be explored by participants in Pete’s study.
There is obvious crossover in his research between the fields of history and archaeology, and computer animation and visualisation. Pete tells us that he has received a lot of support not only from his supervisors - all of whom are from the Faculty of Science & Technology - but also from staff at Centre for Digital Entertainment, which sits within the Faculty of Media & Communication.
My supervisors - Dr John Stewart, Dr Jan Wiener and Dr Christos Gatzidis - have all provided, and continue to provide, a great level of support and advice on this project. Their experience has proved invaluable,” Pete states.
He is also looking forward to being able to share his findings with his peers and academics from elsewhere in the UK and around the world once his research has advanced. “BU provides many opportunities to go to conferences in order to present my work and meet with other academics,” Pete reveals. He’s keen to make connections with others who have an interest in his research and to continue to develop his project.
Although Pete is only at the beginning of his doctorate, he hopes that he will be working with BU for many years to come. “After I get my doctorate, I’d like to be a lecturer, preferably at BU,” he says. However, he’s not averse to considering other career options within academia and science as a whole.