People in ROOTS: Tim Kerig

Tim Kerig

After meeting Chiara Thumiger (link), the “People in ROOTS” series continues with an interview of Tim Kerig, one of the new associate researchers of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS

First of all, welcome to Kiel! Tim, you began to work a couple of months ago in the framework of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. Can you tell us something about your planned research here?
Oh yes, of course. My research in ROOTS is focused on the archaeology of social inequality. Former US president Obama once identified social inequality as the “defining challenge of our time” – just think of the climate consequences to come, who is going to pay for them? I address similar questions for the archaeological past, where social inequality sometimes also must have been a “defining challenge”, at least for some parts of the population. I work on the origin and evolution of social differences between human beings. I am interested in both social differentiation that is the function of inequality for a society and in social inequality, asking for the political consequences of inequality in a society. Social inequality is really a ROOTS topic: social inequality has deeply shaped our world and it has very deep roots in our past. Moreover, it is a very useful perspective not only for societal but also for environmental questions – who profits from change and who pays for it? Or think about war, an extreme interesting example of inequality: some people are dying for others…

More specifically, what are your main lines of research?
I am a European prehistorian working on temperate Europe. I follow a multi-proxy approach and try to develop indirect ways of measuring inequality by proxy, e.g., the time spent in crafting grave goods or square metres of living space in different households, sizes of military units, proximity to resources, and so on. Imagine a multi-dimensional space with a bundle of those proxies as axes: in such a space, one can neatly arrange all the different archaeological entities, cultures, sites, time slices, whatever… This should help us to explain where, when and why fundamental social changes occurred, e.g., the heritability of wealth and power. My theoretical background is in evolutionary theory as well as in analytical agency archaeology. I try to explain processes of the past to contribute critically to current discourses. To address social inequality, we also have to look at population numbers and productivity as well: first, one has to estimate the size of the cake – or of the total of the cast cakes of the Metal Ages – before we can look for the allocation of the share per capita or social groups.

Career life before ROOTS: what were the main stations and milestones of your career path so far?
I studied in Tübingen and Copenhagen and completed my PhD on Neolithic archaeology in Cologne. I held positions as an exhibition curator, an editor of books and a journal, and a field director. I hold postdoc positions in Cologne and at University College London, and at both places I was also the principal investigator of my own projects. I taught at eight universities, completed my habilitation in Leipzig on Neolithic economic systems, and I have been a fellow of the IGZA think tank close to the German metal workers union and at a Käte-Hamburger Centre in Berlin. Moreover, I am currently also excavating a cave and a tell site in Iraqi Kurdistan (actually a project on social inequality and agricultural choices and practices).

Life beyond ROOTS: what do you like to do beyond your research?    
I enjoy being boring. I spend my leisure time with friends and with my wife and kids – eating, discussing, sometimes singing, drinking wine (too little champagne!) and every now and then we do exactly the same, but at a skiing cabin in Norway, where my family lives.   
Tim Kerig is a research associate with the ROOTS subcluster “ROOTS of Inequalities” (link).
You can contact him at:


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions