Universiteit Leiden

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Katharine MacDonald


Dr. K. MacDonald
+31 71 527 2727

Katherine MacDonald is a Postdoctoral research at the Faculty of Archaeology.

More information about Katharine MacDonald

Office days

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday


Three interconnected themes run through my research: brains and cognition, ecological niche and adaptive flexibility (an ability to develop novel solutions to problems, through processes including innovation and social learning). These themes are important throughout the history of the human lineage as well as for understanding the origins of Homo sapiens.  In order to understand how these characteristics changed and interacted throughout human evolution, I focus on relevant case studies from a range of different Palaeolithic periods and regions. This has varied from a study of the role of adaptive flexibility in the earliest hominin expansion out of Africa, to Neanderthal learning of subsistence skills. I also draw on relevant data from other disciplines, particularly primatology and ethnography, which can address questions that are difficult to answer based on the archaeological record alone. My methodology is often characterized by analysis of large datasets, using computer applications.

A key part of my current research focuses on the earliest occupation of north-west Europe. At this north-western edge of their distribution the earliest occupants probably encountered new and challenging conditions. What biological and behavioural adaptations were necessary? Fire is often seen as one of the most valuable tools for coping with cold conditions. However, chronologies for the use of fire diverge dramatically. Clear traces of habitual fire use date to 400-300,000 years ago - substantially younger than evidence for the arrival of the first hominins in Europe, including the north-west. Could the early occupants have kept themselves warm in winter and processed their food without fire? This complements other research in the Human Origins Group aiming at narrowing down the chronology of fire use, and taking a long-term perspective on human adaptation to and manipulation of their environment.

Teaching activities

I teach and supervise theses on topics related to my research.

Curriculum vitae

I completed my graduate training at the University of Southampton, UK (MSc Archaeological Computing and PhD in Archaeology). I took up a research position in the Faculty of Archaeology University of Leiden in 1994. Since then I have worked here and also spent time at the Monrepos Research Institute in Germany.


  • Faculteit Archeologie
  • World Archaeology
  • Human Origins
  • Macdonald Editing Copy-editing academic texts in English
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