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Human Dispersal and Evolution

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
15
ECTS points
7.5
Level
Level 5
Module lead
John McNabb
Academic year
2021-22

Module overview

This module explores human evolution in the context of expanding and contracting populations. We shall review the evolutionary landscape and the big questions that face archaeologists. We shall cover the hominin fossil record, learning about the major species and genera, and how successive expansions, contractions and extinctions of hominid species can be related to their behaviours and ecologies. To set this rich record into a broader context, we shall set out useful frameworks taken from “small world societies” (both other primates and modern hunter-gatherers). We shall also explore how environmental and climatic conditions have been reconstructed for the period of our global deep history (focussing on 6 million to 10,000 years ago). These frameworks give us the opportunity to explore the importance of mobility and other adaptive mechanisms in coping with very different ecological conditions. Hominins (our ancestors and their relatives) start to be found outside Africa nearly two million years ago, and are found over much of the Old World by one million years ago. We became a truly global species (colonising Australia, the Americas and Pacific) long after our own species had developed its trademark big brain. Were the colonisations of early prehistory a purposive process or the result of luck, technological breakthroughs and people pushed by climate to find new territories? The answer is critical for deciding the capabilities of our ancestors and for deciding how different or similar they were to us.

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