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The Human Planet


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master Archaeology programme.


For how long has human action caused (global) environmental change? How can we distinguish between natural and anthropogenic causes of environmental change? How have changes in population density, technology, and socio-economic organisation affected the nature of human impact on the environment? Did unsustainable practices cause the decline of particular societies (and vice versa)? And can modern study of past environments and societies contribute to sustainable strategies now and in the future?

Humans are particularly effective at altering their environments, and have been engaging in ‘niche construction’ for tens of thousands of years. Today, we face complicated challenges resulting from global human-caused impact on climate and biodiversity.

This course aims to contextualise the current crisis using the extended time perspective of the archaeologist. Understanding the impact of humans and human ancestors requires an understanding of Quaternary environmental change.
Starting from the geological background, we will learn how to evaluate archaeological evidence for human modifications of the environment, discuss the antiquity and diversity of human niche construction, and consider case studies of human-environment interaction from a range of periods and regions.

This course will enable participants to become familiar with data about the past that are relevant for thinking about – and possibly helping to solve – current challenges of meeting the needs for a habitable world, now and in the near future.

Course objectives

  • Obtain knowledge of Quaternary environmental changes;

  • Gain insight into different palaeo-environmental proxies and methods;

  • Understand the challenges of distinguishing human and environmental impacts;

  • Assess human impact on past and present landscapes, faunal communities, and climates, at varied spatial scales;

  • Assess the mechanisms underlying human-environment interactions;

  • Gain the ability to apply a long term perspective in discussion of present-day problems.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA and MSc time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures and seminars;

  • Discussion based on literature.

Due to COVID-19 measures in place, and depending on developments in the situation, the mode of instruction may change before or during the course.

Course load

  • 7 x 2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 280 pages of literature and weekly discussion points or peer reviewing (2 ec);

  • Final essay 1,500-1,800 words (1 ec);

  • Group paper on selected topic (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Individual paper (60%);

  • Group project (40%).

A retake is possible for the individual paper only, if all other requirements have been met (including submission of weekly discussion points and participation in the group efforts). If the group project receives a fail, it must be improved to the level required for a pass.

All exam dates (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the MA and MSc examination schedule.

Due to COVID-19 measures in place, and depending on developments in the situation, the assessment method may change before or during the course.

Reading list

J. McCorriston & J. Field (2020), Anthropocene: A New Introduction to World Prehistory. London, Thames and Hudson.

The complete reading list will be published prior to the start of the course.


Registration via uSis is mandatory.

  • The Administration Office will register all BA1 students for their tutorials (not lectures; register via uSis!).

  • BA2, BA3, MA/MSc and RMA/RMSc students are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time.

  • The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, students are not required to do this in uSis.


For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr. J.W.M. (Wil) Roebroeks.


  • Compulsory attendance;

  • It is compulsory to provide the weekly online discussion points.