Notable for his archaeological research in the Caribbean and South America, Cooper took over responsibility for the Americas wing of the British Museum in 2012. He is also known for hosting the BBC programs Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World and Lost Kingdoms of South America.
After earning his bachelor's and master's degrees and his doctorate in archaeology from University College London, he taught at the University of Leicester.
Some of his research has delved into the effects of a changing climate upon islanders.
Cooper and Tony Robinson co-hosted a British Channel 4 documentary series called Man on Earth.