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Archaeology (Research): Human Origins

Human Origins provides an in-depth introduction into the European Palaeolithic record and its wider setting, from the earliest occupation of Europe in the Early Pleistocene to the Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers. In addition, it focuses on current research on Neandertal behaviour, with the aim of introducing students to current research questions, methods of analysis and theoretical perspectives in Palaeolithic archaeology. The Middle Palaeolithic site of Neumark Nord provides a case study introducing the characteristics of the record and methods of analysis.


In Leiden, there are three main strands of research on Neandertal behaviour. The first is the study of the formation, chronology and environments of Middle Palaeolithic sites. The second involves reconstruction of Neandertal behaviour, primarily on the basis of stone tools, fauna and spatial patterns. Concludingly, studies of the Neandertal niche use theory and comparative data from disciplines such as evolutionary ecology, primatology and palaeoanthropology are used to address differences between the Neandertal and the anatomically modern human record.


In close association with colleagues studying Pleistocene environments, the two-year programme consists of a series of courses, seminars and activities centred around the research of the Human Origins group. In Palaeolithic Europe: An Introduction, students obtain a thorough knowledge of the European Palaeolithic record from a mixture of courses, literature study and written assignments. This knowledge is further developed in courses dealing with lithic technology, Pleistocene environments and stratigraphy and ecology of the mammoth steppe. Students are also expected to participate in fieldwork of the department, currently focused on a multidisciplinary study of very early traces of hominin occupation preserved in the Cromer Forest beds in East Anglia (UK), at the site of Happisburgh 1. This fieldwork is used to train students in Palaeolithic fieldwork and post-excavation techniques.
Seminars and thesis comparative data and theory from other disciplines such as ethnography, palaeoanthropology and behavioural ecology are discussed in research seminars (with a minimum of one each year) to help students understand the behavioural and cognitive adaptations of members of the human lineage, especially the Neandertals. It is also in context of this research that students have to develop a research plan for their thesis.


Coordinator for the Research Master specialisation in Human Origins: prof. dr Wil Roebroeks.