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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 to the later phases of the Upper Palaeolithic. In addition, it focuses on our research in Neanderthal behaviour, with the aim of introducing students to current research questions, methods of analysis and theoretical perspectives in Palaeolithic archaeology.

There are three main strands to research in Neanderthal behaviour in Leiden. The first is the study of the formation, chronology and environments of Middle Palaeolithic sites. The second involves the reconstruction of Neanderthal behaviour, primarily on the basis of stone tools, fauna and spatial patterns. The final strand studies the Neanderthal niche using theory and comparative data from disciplines such as evolutionary ecology, primatology and palaeoanthropology to compare the archaeological records of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans.

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, which currently has a strong focus on the role of fire in Neanderthal – and other hominins’- adaptations, but also includes studies of East African palaeoenvironments and the Dubois collection from the type site of Homo erectus, Trinil, Java.

You will obtain a thorough knowledge of the Palaeolithic record by a mixture of lectures, literature studies and written assignments. This knowledge is further developed in courses dealing with Palaeolithic technology, Pleistocene environments and the stratigraphy and ecology of the Mammoth Steppe. You are also expected to participate in the department’s fieldwork, especially dr. Soressi’s excavations at Les Cottés (France).

Our excavations train students in Palaeolithic fieldwork and post-excavation techniques. Comparative data and theory from other disciplines such as ethnography, palaeoanthropology and behavioural ecology are discussed in research seminars (one each year) to help you understand the behavioural and cognitive adaptations of members of the human lineage, especially the Neanderthals. It is also in the context of this research that you are asked to develop a research plan for your thesis.

Track leader:
Prof. dr. Wil Roebroeks