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Staff Profile

Prof Gillian Bentley

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41114
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 40690

(email at


My first degree (BA Hons) was in Archaeology of the Levant from the University of London (Institute of Archaeology) and I went on to complete both my Masters and PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago in 1982 and 1987 respectively. For my PhD, I examined dental morphological traits in an Early Bronze Age population of skeletons excavated from Bab edh-Dhra’ in southern Jordan to test whether family groups were interred together in underground chambered burials using collections held at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. I was always interested in the effects of the environment on population dynamics and particularly on fertility and ended up writing a paper (in 1985) that suggested the low fertility of !Kung San women in Botswana was explained by their heavy workloads suppressing ovarian function. I was shifting my focus away from archaeology and more towards biological anthropology. I began to attend the American Association of Physical Anthropology meetings in the USA where I met like-minded people.

After completing my dissertation, I retrained through two postdoctoral fellowships in the anthropology departments at Harvard and Penn State Universities. At Harvard, I worked under the mentorship of Peter Ellison, learned radioimmunoassay techniques for the analyses of salivary steroid levels in his laboratory, and spent nine months working with the Ituri Project in Central Africa (in what was then Zaire). Here, my colleagues and I studied the effects of seasonal nutritional stress on reproductive function among the Lese, a group of slash and burn horticulturalists who live symbiotically with Efe pygmies. In this work, we found that salivary progesterone and oestradiol levels were significantly reduced in women who lost weight during the hunger season. Levels of salivary testosterone were also significantly reduced among Lese men during the same period. We were basically documenting that different populations can be characterised by significantly varying levels of reproductive steroid hormones. However, since the Lese also have relatively high levels of sexually transmitted and other infectious diseases that affect fertility, we did not know whether their chronically lower levels of reproductive steroids had an independent effect. I was to come back to this question later. At Penn State University, I was funded by an NIH postdoctoral fellowship and worked with Jim Wood learning more about reproductive ageing and demography.

My first tenure-track job was at Northwestern University in the USA, but then I obtained a Royal Society University Fellowship and returned to the UK, first to Cambridge University and then to UCL. At Cambridge, I worked on a collaborative project to test whether highland Bolivian women can conceive with low progesterone and oestradiol levels and, at UCL, set up a new project with migrant Bangladeshi women, to test whether childhood developmental environments could alter reproductive function later in adulthood. I have been working on different aspects of this latter Project ever since. More recently, I have also become interested in questions of childhood obesity and how this relates to health in later life.

These two major collaborative research strands are further outlined in the links below:

  1. The effects of childhood development on reproductive function and health across the lifecourse.
  2. Obesity and later life health.

Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health

Research Projects

Department of Anthropology

  • A Life Course Approach to Obesity
  • Developmental Effects on Reproductive Function in Migrant Bangladeshi Women

Research Interests

  • Behavioural ecology
  • Early life development and later life health
  • Evolutionary medicine
  • Overweight/obesity and child health
  • Reproductive ecology


Chapter in book

  • Bentley, G. (2016). Applying evolutionary thinking in medicine: an introduction. In Evolutionary Thinking in Medicine. From Research to Policy and Practice. Alvergne, A., Jenkinson, C. & Faurie, C. Cham: Springer. 1-16.
  • Núñez-de la Mora, A. & Bentley, G.R. (2008). Changes in risk factors for breast cancer in migrant women: An inter-generational comparison among Bangladeshis in the UK. In Health, Risk and Adversity. Panter-Brick, C. & Fuentes, A. New York.: Berghahn Press. 129-149
  • Bentley, G.R. & Perry, V.J. (2008). Dental analyses of the Bab edh-Dhra’ human remains. In The EB I Tombs and Burials of Bâb edh Dhrâ, Jordan. Ortner, D.J. & Frohlich, B. Altamira Press.
  • Núñez-de la Mora, A. & Bentley, G.R. (2008). Early life effects on reproductive function. In Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives. Trevathan, W., Smith, E.O. & McKenna, J.J. New York: Oxford University Press. 149-168.
  • Bentley, G.R. & Aunger, R. (2008). Practical aspects of Evolutionary Medicine. In Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects. Elton, S. & O'Higgins, P. CRC Press. 215-237.
  • Scott,I., Bentley, G.R., Tovee, M.J., Ahamed, F.U., Magid, K. & Sharmeen, T. (2007). An evolutionary perspective on male preferences for female body shape. In Body Beautiful: Evolutionary and Socio-cultural Perspectives. Swami, V. & Furnham, A. New York: Palgrave-MacMillan.

Edited book

  • Bentley, G.R. & Mace, R. (2009). Substitute Parents: Biological and Social Perspectives on Alloparenting across Human Societies. Berghahn Press.
  • Bentley, G.R. & Mascie-Taylor, C.G.N. (2000). Infertility in the Modern World: Present and Future Prospects. Cambridge University Press.

Journal Article

  • Langcaster-James, Mitchell & Bentley, Gillian R (2018). Beyond the Sex Doll: Post-Human Companionship and the Rise of the ‘Allodoll’. Robotics 7(4): 62.
  • Begum, K., Muttukrishna, S., Leidy Sievert, L., Sharmeen, T., Murphy, L., Chowdhury, M., Kasim, A., Gunu, R. & Bentley, G. (2016). Ethnicity or environment: Effects of migration on ovarian reserve among Bangladeshi women in the United Kingdom. Fertility and Sterility 105(3): 744-754.e1.
  • Sievert, L., Begum, K., Sharmeen, T., Murphy, L., Whitcomb, B.W., Chowdhury, O., Muttukrishna, S. & Bentley, G. (2016). Hot flash report and measurement among Bangladeshi migrants, their London neighbors, and their community of origin. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 161(4): 620-633.
  • Dhanoya, T., Sievert, L., Muttukrishna, S., Begum, K., Sharmeen, T., Kasim, A., Chowdhury, O. & Bentley, G. (2016). Hot flushes and reproductive hormone levels during the menopausal transition. Maturitas 89: 43-51.
  • Murphy, L., Sievert, L., Begum, K., Sharmeen, T., Puleo, E., Chowdhury, O., Muttukrishna, S. & Bentley, G. (2013). Life course effects on age at menopause among Bangladeshi sedentees and migrants to the UK. American Journal of Human Biology 25(1): 83-93.
  • Sievert, L.L. Begum, K. Sharmeen, T. Chowdhury, O. Muttukrishna, S. & Bentley, G.R. (2008). Patterns of occurrence and concordance between subjective and objective hot flashes in Muslim and Hindu women in Sylhet, Bangladesh. American Journal of Human Biology 20(5): 598-604.
  • Nunez de la Mora, A., Bentley, G.R., Choudhury, O.A., Napolitano, D.A. & Chatterton, R.T. (2008). The impact of developmental conditions on adult salivary estradiol levels: Why this differs from progesterone? American Journal of Human Biology 20(1): 2-14.
  • Nunez-de la Mora, A. Napolitano, D., Uddin, F., Choudhury, O. & Bentley, G.R. (2007). Betel nut use among first and second generation Bangladeshi women in London, UK, and women resident in Bangladesh. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health
  • Bentley, G.R. & Muttukrishna, S. (2007). Potential Use of Biomarkers for Analyzing Inter-Population and Cross-Cultural Variability in Reproductive Aging. Menopause
  • Bentley, G.R. (2007). The effect of chewing betel nut on measurements of salivary progesterone and estradiol. American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Anthropology: human reproduction
  • Evolution: human reproduction
  • Infant and child health: human reproduction
  • International development: human reproduction
  • Health & Welfare: human reproduction
  • Human biology and development: human reproduction
  • Medical and health research topics: human reproduction
  • Nutrition: human reproduction
  • Obesity: human reproduction
  • Public policy, health and well-being: human reproduction
  • Anthropology: obesity
  • Evolution: obesity
  • Infant and child health: obesity
  • Health & Welfare: obesity
  • Health & welfare services: obesity
  • Human biology and development: obesity
  • Medical and health research topics: obesity
  • Nutrition: obesity
  • Obesity: obesity
  • Public policy, health and well-being: obesity
  • Anthropology: evolutionary medicine
  • Evolution: evolutionary medicine
  • Health & Welfare: evolutionary medicine
  • Human biology and development: evolutionary medicine
  • Medical and health research topics: evolutionary medicine
  • Public policy, health and well-being: evolutionary medicine