As a research student attached to the Institute in its early years John Sutton worked on the Iron Age archaeology and history of East Africa under Merrick Posnansky, and published his revised doctoral thesis on the archaeology of the Western Highlands of Kenya in the Institute’s Memoirs series. He subsequently held teaching and research positions at the University of Dar es Salaam and at universities in West Africa, maintaining an active interest in the East African Iron Age and in agricultural history and archaeology.
As Director of the Institute, he initiated new research on the remains of irrigation systems of former agricultural communities, notably at Engaruka in the Rift Valley of northern Tanzania and Nyanga in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. While in post, he also helped establish a programme of archaeological investigation of the emergence of complex societies in the interlacustrine region of East Africa, of which his excavations at Ntusi in Western Uganda (later in collaboration with Andrew Reid) formed an integral part. A
mong other activities during his tenure of the Directorship, he oversaw the Institute’s move from Chiromo Mansion to its current premises in Kileleshwa, and began a more active programme of popularising the work of the Institute – of which his overview published as A Thousand Years of East Africa, has played an integral part.