Universiteit Leiden

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Human Origins

About us

The Human Origins group at Leiden University studies the archaeology of hunter-gatherers, from the earliest stone tools in East Africa, more than three million years old, to the origin of sedentary societies towards the end of the last ice age.

The study of the origin and development of the human niche is a pre-eminently interdisciplinary undertaking, and the University of Leiden accommodates prominent representatives of some of these disciplines. Combination of fieldwork and other types of study has taken members of our group all over the Old World, with our key fieldwork areas at the moment being situated in Les Cottés (France), at Trinil (Java, Indonesia)  and the Turkana Basin (see below).

There are three strands to our research of hominin behaviour, which has a heavy emphasis on the archaeology of Neandertals and other (earlier) Europeans.

The first consists of study of the formation, chronology and environments of Palaeolithic sites. Here, we cover the whole Palaeolithic, starting with José Joordens’ studies in the Turkana Basin, through the earliest occupants of Java (Indonesia), northwestern Europe (fieldwork at Happisburgh 1, UK, Woerden, NL), Last Interglacial Neandertal activities at Neumark-Nord 2 (Germany), Marie Soressi’s fieldwork on  the archaeology of the last Neandertals and the first modern humans  at Les Cottés (France) up to and including the archaeology of modern humans (e.g. at the Aurignacian site Breitenbach, Germany).

The second involves reconstruction of early hominin, Neandertal and early modern human behaviour, primarily on the basis of stone tools, fauna and spatial patterns. Earlier projects under this heading included studies of the early Middle Palaeolithic flint assemblages of Maastricht-Belvédère (the Netherlands) and the faunal remains from the German site Schöningen (Voormolen 2008). Currently, much attention is given to the interpretation of the rich record from the Last Interglacial site Neumark-Nord 2,  the Homo erectus type locality Trinil (Dubois Collection, NCB Naturalis) and the record from Les Cottés. We also focus on the deep prehistory of fire usage, with a series of experiments and archaeological case studies, cooperating with molecular biologists and physicists (palaeomagnetism, luminescence) from various universities. Studies of the Neandertal niche use theory and comparative data from evolutionary ecology, primatology and palaeoanthropology, for instance to address differences between the Neandertal and anatomically modern human record. For the next three years we will also be hosting the VIDI-research group of Dr Krist Vaessen, which is testing a variety of cultural evolutionary models, of great relevance to the general research of our group

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