MacKay profileDr Alex Mackay

PhD, ANU, 2009, BA Hons (1st class), ANU, 2000

Phone:   +61 2 4221 5389

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  • Senior Lecturer
  • ARC DECRA Fellow

Professional profile

My principal work focuses on the behavioural evolution of Homo sapiens in Africa over the last 200 000 years. I’m particularly interested in understanding when, where and why we acquired the capacity to develop and deploy complex stone tools, and how this might have influenced our evolutionary trajectory. I’m also interested in the timing of occupation of resource-marginal areas, and the potential push-pull factors which influence this. To that end I’m undertaking extensive field and lab-based research in South Africa and Malawi. Previously I’ve worked on the archaeology of Australia, India and Peru.

I’m currently a research Fellow in CAS on a three-year ARC DECRA fellowship.

  • ARC APD Fellowship, ANU (2010-2013)
  • Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town (2013-ongoing)
  • PhD, ANU, 2009
  • BA Hons (1st class), ANU, 2000

Research interests
  • Human behavioural evolution
  • Late Pleistocene archaeology of southern Africa
  • Occupational dynamics of the southern African interior
  • Risk, demography and early technological systems
  • Mobility, territoriality and resource distribution

Current projects
  • Dwellers on the Threshold: the evolution of human behavioural complexity in peripheral regions of southern Africa (ARC DECRA Grant DE130100068)
  • Varsche Rivier 003: A new Middle Stone Age site (Namaqualand, South Africa) (NSF and Leakey Foundation funded project with T. Steele, M. Stahlschmidt & J. Orton)
  • Context and controls on modern human behaviour in southern Africa: human-environment interactions in the late Pleistocene (INQUA International Focus Group project with B. Chase et al)

Selected key publications
  • Steele, T.E, Mackay, A., Orton, J., Schwortz, S. (2012) Varsche River 003, a new Middle Stone Age site in southern Namaqualand, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 67, 108-119
  • Hiscock, P., Clarkson, C., Mackay, A., (2011) Big debates over little tools: ongoing disputes over microliths on three continents. World Archaeology, 43, 653-664
  • Mackay, A., Marwick, B., (2011) Costs and benefits in technological decision making under variable conditions: examples from the late Pleistocene in southern Africa. In: Marwick, B., Mackay, A. (eds), Keeping your Edge: Recent Approaches to the Organisation of Stone Artefact Technology. BAR S2273, 119-134.
  • Mackay, A., (2011) The nature and significance of the transition from the Howiesons Poort to the post-Howiesons Poort at Klein Kliphuis rockshelter, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38, 1430-1440
  • Mackay, A., Welz, A., (2008) Engraved ochre from a Middle Stone Age context at Klein Kliphuis in the Western Cape of South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35, 1521-1532
  • Jacobs, Z., Roberts, R.G., Galbraith, R.F., Deacon, H.J., Grün, R., Mackay, A., Mitchell, P., Vogelsang, R., Wadley, L., Ages for Middle Stone Age innovations in southern Africa: implications for modern human behavior and dispersal. Science, 322, 733-735

  • Antiquity of heat treatment of silicious rocks in the Western Cape, South Africa
  • Comparison of reduction and use of different rock types in early southern African microlithic systems
  • Material selection and transportation in early southern African microlithic systems
  • Coastal vs interior patterns of mobility and territoriality in the Western Cape from MIS 5-2
  • Spatial variation in backed artefact morphology during the Howiesons Poort and its relationship to environmental variation
  • Systems of bifacial point reduction and use at Soutfontein, southern Namaqualand
  • Patterns of sourcing and consumption of ochre through the late Pleistocene in the Western Cape
  • Archaeology of the Doring River late Pleistocene terraces, Western Cape


Last reviewed: 7 June, 2017