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An Introduction to Palaeoanthropology


Admission requirements

Admission to the Research Master Archaeology programme.


This course introduces the participants to new developments in the field of palaeoanthropology with a focus on the physical anthropological evidence for hominin evolution, paying special attention to various new methods developed and used within the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig).

Set-up of the course

Day 1

  • Outline of the course.

  • The skeletal material and it significance. New approaches to the fossil record (virtual paleoanthropology, microstructures, isotopic studies, palaeogenetics).

  • Geological timeframe. Dating the past. Reconstructing the Pleistocene climates.

Day 2

  • Evolutionary theory. Classification and nomenclature.

  • Overview of human evolution.

  • The emergence of the genus Homo.

  • The first Eurasian hominins.

Day 3

The Neandertals and their contemporaries 1:

  • Historical background.

  • Anatomy, palaeogenetics.

  • Evolutionary history.

  • Growth and development 1 (life history theory).

Day 4

Neandertals and their contemporaries 2:

  • Growth and development 2 (brain development).

  • Modern origins.

  • Out of Africa.

  • Neandertal extinction.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of key species in hominin evolution, with a focus on Eurasian Middle and Late Pleistocene;

  • Knowledge of scientific methods for the study of human evolution;

  • Insights into the interdisciplinary character of Palaeoanthropology and the progress made in recent years by the integration of various approaches.


Course schedule details can be found in the RMA and RMSc time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Literature study.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 280 pages of literature (2 ec);

  • Assignment (2 ec).

Assessment method

Written assignment (max. 3,000 words) on one of the topics addressed during the one-week lecture series (details on BlackBoard).

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

Reading list

  • R. Klein, The Human Career (3rd edition). Chicago University Press (2009), chapters 5, 6, 8.

Suggested additional reading:

  • Antón, S.C. & C.C. Swisher, 2004. "Early Dispersals of Homo from Africa" in: Annual Review of Anthropology 33, 271-296;

  • Bruner, E. 2010. "Morphological Differences in the Parietal Lobes within the Human Genus: A Neurofunctional Perspective" in: Current Anthropology 51(s1), S77-S88;

  • Froehle, A. W. & S. E. Churchill, 2009. "Energetic Competition Between Neandertals and Anatomically Modern Humans" in: PaleoAnthropology 2009(96-116);

  • Gunz, P., Neubauer, S., Maureille, B. & J.-J. Hublin, 2010. "Brain Development After Birth Differs Between Neanderthals and Modern Humans" in: Current Biology 20, R921-R922;

  • Henry, A.G., Brooks, A.S. & D.R. Piperno, 2011. "Microfossils in Calculus Demonstrate Consumption of Plants and Cooked Foods in Neanderthal Diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium)” in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, 486-491;

  • Hublin, J.-J, 2009. "The Origin of Neandertals" in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 16022-16027;

  • Hublin, J.-J. et al., 2012. "Radiocarbon Dates from the Grotte du Renne and Saint-Césaire Support a Neandertal Origin for the Châtelperronian" in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(46), 18743-18748;

  • Hublin J.-J., 2014. "How to Build a Neandertal" in: Science 344(6190), 1338-1339;

  • Hublin J.-J., 2014. "Paleoanthropology: Homo Erectus and the Limits of a Paleontological Species" in: Current Biology 24(2), R82-R84;

  • Hublin J.-J., 2015. "Paleoanthropology: How Old Is the Oldest Human?" in: Current Biology 25(11), R453-R455;

  • Hublin J.-J., 2015. "The Modern Human Colonization of Western Eurasia: When and Where?" in: Quaternary Science Reviews 118(0), 194-210;

  • Hublin J.-J., Neubauer S, & Gunz, P., 2015. "Brain Ontogeny and Life History in Pleistocene Hominins" in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 370(1663), 1-11;

  • Kaplan, H. et al., 2000. "A Theory of Human Life History Evolution: Diet, Intelligence, and Longevity” in: Evolutionary Anthropology 9(4), 156-185;

  • Meyer, M. et al., 2012. "A High-Coverage Genome Sequence from an Archaic Denisovan Individual" in: Science 338(6104), 222-226;

  • Premo, L.S., & J.-J. Hublin, 2009. "Culture, Population Structure, and Low Genetic Diversity in Pleistocene Hominins" in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(1), 33-37;

  • Prüfer K, Racimo F, Patterson N, Jay F, Sankararaman S, Sawyer S, Heinze A, Renaud G, Sudmant PH, de Filippo C et al., 2014. "The Complete Genome Sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains" in: Nature 505(7481), 43-49;

  • Richards, M. P., 2009. "Stable Isotope Evidence for European Upper Paleolithic Human Diets" in: J.-J. Hublin & M.P. Richards (eds.), The Evolution of Hominin Diets. Integrating Approaches to the Study of Palaeolithic Subsistence. Dordrecht: Springer, 251-257;

  • Roebroeks, W., Hublin, J.-J. & K. MacDonald, 2011. "Continuities and Discontinuities in Neandertal Presence: A Closer Look at Northwestern Europe" in: N.M. Ashton, S.G. Lewis & C.B. Stringer (eds.), The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain, Developments in Quaternary Science. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 113-123;

  • Ruff, C. B. et al., 1997. "Body Mass and Encephalization in Pleistocene Homo" in: Nature 387, 173-176;

  • Smith, T. M. et al., 2010. "Dental Evidence for Ontogenetic Differences Between Modern Humans and Neanderthals” in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 20923-20928.


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.A. (Jean-Jacques) Hublin.


Compulsory attendance.