Professor The Development of the Human Niche
I am a Professor at Leiden University, interested in the development of the human niche, with a research focus on Neanderthals and other (earlier) Eurasian hominins. Studying timescales of thousands to millions of years, prehistoric archaeology has the potential to provide a long-term perspective on our emergence as a planet-transforming species.
Studying timescales of thousands to millions of years, prehistoric archaeology has the potential to provide a very long-term perspective on our emergence as a planet-transforming species. Recent research suggests that in constructing their niches, early humans have been altering ecosystems, on a local scale, for a very long time already. A human role cannot be ruled out even in periods that are routinely taken as ‘baselines’ for natural vegetation, such as the Last Interglacial, the warm-temperate period of about 125,000 years ago. Together with German colleagues, we have been running a long-term and large-scale study of a lake landscape dating from this Last Interglacial, very rich in traces of the presence of Neanderthals and of the environment in which they were active there. This Neumark-Nord project brings together many of my research interests and allows us to apply a wide range of analyses to a uniquely rich archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record.
My previous research has had a heavy emphasis on the archaeology of Neanderthals and other (earlier) Eurasian hominins and I have published widely on various aspects of the behaviour of early hominins, including their subsistence strategies and the environmental settings of their presence and absence in Eurasia. My studies of the Neandertal niche are heavily rooted in data obtained in archaeological field- and laboratory work, and I have (co-) directed fieldwork in the Netherlands, in France, northern Russia, Germany, and England.
In the last decade, my research has focused on the deep prehistory of fire usage, with a series of experimental and archaeological case studies, made possible by a KNAW-professorship prize (2013). It is within the context of those fire-related studies and the above mentioned Neumark-Nord project that I became very interested in the impact of early humans on their landscapes, as part of my broader interest in the development of the human niche. This interest recently resulted in joining Leiden University’s Liveable Planet initiative.
I am member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and of the Academia Europaea, and founding member and 2011-2021 Vice President of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution (ESHE). My biggest asset consists of the people with whom I cooperate within the Human Origins group in Leiden and the many colleagues and friends elsewhere, who make this interesting field of ours an almost continuous source of puzzlement and learning, as well as fun!
No relevant ancillary activities