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Seminar Human Origins: An integrative approach


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements

BA or BSc degree (or equivalent) in archaeology or a relevant discipline;
SAP and exchange students: admission after approval by the Graduate School of Archaeology.


This course provides a critical review of the archaeological evidence and chronology for the appearance traits of ‘modern human behaviour’ in the Middle Palaeolithic record of Europe. Genetic and fossil evidence suggests that H.sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and subsequently colonised other regions.
Some argue that human range expansion was based on a behavioural transformation as recently as 50,000 years ago. Others state that advanced behaviours accumulated gradually: McBrearty and Brooks demonstrated that many components of the ‘human revolution’ actually accumulated in the African record over a period of about 200,000 years. However, the last few decades of research on the Middle Palaeolithic have tended to reduce strong contrasts with the Upper Palaeolithic, for instance in foraging strategies and lithic technology.
Students will be asked to undertake a critical examination of the archaeological evidence for key traits and to produce a report. Compiling this evidence will allow us to explore a number of interesting questions. How does the European pattern compare with the African record? What does this imply for our understanding of Neandertal behaviour and the evolution of Homo sapiens? Are there alternative explanations for patterns in the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic record of Europe?

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of models explaining the development of the human niche;

  • Learning how to test such models using archaeological data;

  • Developing a critical attitude towards ‘trait list’ approaches of the archaeological record.


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

Mode of instruction

Seminar, literature study, papers given by participants.

Assessment method

  • Participation in class;

  • Written assignment (3,000-word essay). Deadline for the essay: January 31, 2012.
    Assessment is based on your presentation and class work and your essay (these will count for 40% and 60% of your course mark respectively). Your contribution to seminars will also be taken into account.

Reading list

The reading list will be published on Blackboard.


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

Contact information

For more information about this course, please contact mw dr K. MacDonald.