nl en

Archaeology of the late Neanderthals and first Modern humans in Western Europe


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements

Palaeolithic Europe: An introduction obtained.

Non-Archaeology students who want to take this course can send a letter of motivation to mw. dr. M.A. Soressi before 15 January 2015, on which admission to the course will be based.


The demise of the Neanderthals and their replacement by anatomically modern humans in Europe are at the core of several heated debates. When did modern humans come into Europe? Are last Neanderthals behavioral changes a testimony of contacts with anatomically modern humans? How much of last Neanderthals innovative behaviors result from independent invention?

In this course, we will pick up some of the most debated papers published in high ranking journals and discuss these in class. We will focus on papers on which comments have been written, reading and discussing the original paper as well as the comments. The seminar will enable students to learn more about the major changes in Europe between 45,000-35,000 years ago, and will also get a good insight in “science in the making”.

RMA-students will be asked to go deeper into the understanding of the logic and methods used to support arguments. They will also be asked to improve their capacity to present a scientific argument to non-specialists.

Course objectives

For MA-students:

  • Knowledge of recent discoveries on the proposed symbolic behavior of the last Neanderthals and first anatomically modern humans in western Europe;

  • Knowledge of the chronology of the last Neanderthals and first anatomically modern humans in western Europe;

  • Appreciation of how our understanding of the past can quickly evolve, and developing a critical attitude when reading scientific papers.

For RMA-students, in addition to the above:

  • Better understanding of methods used to support theories on the demise of the last Neanderthals, and the peopling of Europe by anatomically modern humans.

Ects distribution

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lectures (1 ects);

  • 250 pages of literature (2 ects);

  • Preparation for weekly assignments and presentation (2 ects).


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

Mode of instruction

Analysing and discussing data/literature will be at the core of this class. Literature will be provided in advance for each class, and a comment on each of the papers will be prepared by each student for each class.
Students will be encouraged and supported to develop skills for clear and concise argument, by using short and fast oral presentation as in the Pecha Kucha style, and by posting short comments on BlackBoard after each class.
This class will offer Master students the opportunity to practice their skills to integrate smoothly in a team in order to benefit from the team by having direct access to a broad range of points of view and experience.

Assessment method

  • Presentation during class (30%);

  • Weekly written posts on BlackBoard (70%).

Assessment deadline

There will be continuous assessment throughout the course.

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list

  • P. Mellars, “The Impossible Coincidence. A Single-species Model for the Origins of Modern Human Behavior in Europe” (2005) in: Evolutionary Anthropology 14: 12–27;

  • J. Zilhão et al., Symbolic Use of Marine Shells and Mineral Pigments by Iberian Neandertals (2010). PNAS 107:1023–1028;

  • Peresani et al., “Late Neandertals and the Intentional Removal of Feathers as Evidenced from Bird Bone Taphonomy at Fumane Cave 44 ky B.P., Italy” (2011) in: PNAS 108 (10): 3888-3893;

  • N.J. Conard, “A Female Figurine from the Basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in Southwestern Germany” (2009) in: Nature 459, 248–252;

  • P. Mellars, “Origins of the Female Image” (2009) in: Nature 459: 176-177;

  • H. Valladas et al., “Evolution of Prehistoric Cave Art” (2001) in: Nature 413:479;

  • P.B. Pettitt, “Art and the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic Transition in Europe: Comments on the Archaeological Arguments for an Early Upper Palaeolithic Antiquity of the Grotte Chauvet Art” (2008) in: Journal of Human Evolution 55: 908-917;

  • Sadier et al. “Further Constraints on the Chauvet Cave Artwork Elaboration” (2012) in: PNAS, published ahead of print May 7, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1118593109;

  • F. d’Errico et al. “Out of Africa: Modern Human Origins Special Feature: Additional Evidence on the Use of Personal Ornaments in the Middle Paleolithic of North Africa” (2009) in: PNAS 106: 16051–16056;

  • T. Higham et al., “Chronology of the Grotte du Renne (France) and Implications for the Context of Ornaments and Human Remains within the Châtelperronian” (2010) in: PNAS 107(47):20234–20239;

  • J.J. Hublin et al., “Radiocarbon Dates from the Grotte du Renne and Saint-Césaire Support a Neandertal Origin for the Châtelperronian” (2012) in: PNAS 109(46):18743-18748;

  • B. Gravina, P. Mellars & C. Bronk Ramsey, Nature (2005) 483:51–56;

  • J. Zilhao, F. d’Errico, J.G. Bordes, A. Lenoble, J.P. Texier, J.P. Rigaud, PNAS (2006) 103: 2643–12648;

  • Mellars et al., “Confirmation of Neanderthal/modern Human Interstratification at the Chatelperronian Type-site” (2007) in: PNAS 104 (9) 3657-3662;

  • Higham et al, “The Earliest Evidence for Anatomically Modern Humans in Northwestern Europe” (2011) in: Nature, 479: 521–24;

  • M.J. White & P.B. Pettitt, “Ancient Digs and Modern Myths. The Context and Age of the Kent’s Cavern 4 Maxilla and the Spread of Homo sapiens in Europe” (2012) in: European Journal of Archaeology 15: 1-30.


Register for this course via uSis.
Instructions for registration can be found in the uSis manual.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contractonderwijs: all information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudents is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).

Contact information

For more information about this course, please contact mw. dr. M.A. Soressi.