This brain belongs to Fiona Jordan. I am an evolutionary social anthropologist primarily interested in understanding human cross-cultural diversity in social structure. Phylogenetic methods and behavioral ecology approaches are my tools of choice, though I’m a rampant pluralist these days.


I am a Lecturer in Anthropology in the University of Bristol’s Archaeology & Anthropology department. From 2009-2012 I worked at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in the Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture group. Before that (2007-2009) I was a postdoc in the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London.

I did my PhD in biological anthropology with Ruth Mace at UCL, and my honours in biology and psychology with Russell Gray at the University of Auckland. I have a couple of undergraduate degrees from Auckland too, a BA in anthropology and psychology, and a BSc in biology.

My other ambitions have been, variously: art historian (now an amateur hobby to abet Eurotravel), geneticist (no patience for bench work), jewellery designer (did that for 2 years), organisational psychology (what was I thinking?), astronaut (no space program in New Zealand), cellist (fell prey to teenage distractions), and archaeologist (middens were not exciting enough, though now I am in an archaeology department who knows?).


Forever a work in progress.

The comparative phylogenetic anthropology of kinship

Biological, cultural and linguistic factors interact to produce varied but restricted kinship systems across the world. Most of my work is directed towards understanding this diversity of human social structure. I have used phylogenetic comparative methods to reconstruct ancestral states of postmarital residence in Austronesian societies, and to test the coevolutionary dynamics of residence and descent, and marriage types and transfers. At present I am working on a more detailed ethnographic database for Austronesian kinship, for future use with the study of kinship terminologies and social structure.

The evolution of semantic systems

How does meaning expressed in words vary across languages and change over time? I am a co-PI on a large cross-cultural project funded by the Max Planck Soceity investigating how the semantic systems of different domains vary over the Indo-European language family. We study colour, body-parts, objects and spatial relations with a set of naming elicitation tasks, and together with our collaborators we will have data from over 1000 speakers acros 50 language by end 2012. More details are here: www.mpi.nl/eoss.

Language-culture co-evolution

Current projects include comparative phylogenetic analyses of Austronesian and Bantu kinship terminologies: reconstructing ancestral meanings, and coevolutionary analyses of how linguistic form, meaning, and social structure evolve together. I am also constructing a comprehensive database of Indo-European kinship terminologies (KITIE). As well, I am interested in the interaction of demography and language evolution, and have examined how population size and density affect the rate of change in Austronesian core vocabulary. Current work on this theme ties linguistic, cultural, and spatial differentiation together.

Human prehistory in the Pacific

My first venture into cultural phylogenetics was the construction of Austronesian language trees; we used these trees to test competing hypotheses about Neolithic human settlement in the Pacific. Currently I am supervising a PhD project to test models of how sex-specific postmarital residence patterns may have impacted on genetic diversity in the Pacific, a topic which has big implications for our understanding of prehistory in the region.

Processes of cultural transmission

Formalising ideas about how populations come to share similar cultural profiles is central to comparative anthropology: it is at the heart of trying to control for the non-independence of related societies (Galton’s Problem). We used Ethnographic Atlas data on Austronesian societies to tease out phylogenetic and geographic effects on cultural similarity between different classes (economic, kinship, political) of traits. Another project has looked at how material culture traits are transmitted: as coherent cultural packages, or as multiple independent lineages.

Biocultural adaptation

A number of projects I’ve participated in fall under this category: reconstructing the ancestral states of cognitive traits and preferences in the great apes; testing for phylogenetic signal and cultural correlations in the worldwide human sex-ratio; explaining diversity in visual depictions of human female genitalia.

A not-terribly up-to-date publication list can be found here.



Fiona Jordan
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
University of Bristol
43 Woodland Rd
Bristol BS8 1UU
phone: +44 (0)117 95 46078
email: fiona.jordan@bristol.ac.uk

This is a representative picture, complete with wonky eyebrows. However, due to my experimental philosophy concerning hair colour, the anthropologist you receive may not look exactly like the one featured in the picture.


: This is a personal weblog. Any opinions or statements expressed here are entirely the responsibility of the author alone.


Copyright: © Fiona Jordan 2006-2012.

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