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The University of Southampton

ARCH2001 Human Dispersal and Evolution

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.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the effects of palaeoenvironmental conditions on hominin behavioural variability and change;
  • at least one hominin ancestor in order to understand the impact of environment on their anatomy and behaviour;
  • general models from evolutionary ecology in relation to subsistence behaviour among hunter-gatherers and great apes;
  • the extent to which archaeological and ethnographic data on human dispersal can be combined to form interpretations built on evolutionary principles;
  • the contribution that the world-wide ethnography of hunters and gatherers can make to the interpretation of archaeological evidence.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Acquire study skills using a range of archaeological, geographical and primatological/ethnographic sources
  • become familiar with new fields of knowledge, such as social cognition and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, and to see how these can be built into a geography and archaeology of dispersal and behavioural change.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • contribute towards team discussion and consensus
  • develop within your peer group written and oral presentation skills
  • evaluate published arguments and present information and opinion concisely


This module will examine the archaeological and skeletal evidence for early population dispersals, focussing on the early hominin migrations between 6 million and 10,000 years ago (but also comparing them to the later maritime dispersals, 5000-4000 years ago, that colonised the Pacific). Theoretical frameworks will be introduced at the start, followed by chronologically-organised coverage of the palaeoanthropological evidence. You will be encouraged to develop a detailed knowledge of at least one hominin species in its archaeological, ecological and environmental context.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Classes/Seminars • Group-based oral presentations Learning activities include • Lectures • Classes/Seminars • Group-based oral presentations • Independent study

Wider reading or practice20
Completion of assessment task85
Preparation for scheduled sessions15
Follow-up work5
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Lee, R.B. & R. Daly (eds.) (1999). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of hunters & gatherers. 

Gamble, C.S. (1999). The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe. 

Shryock, A. & DD.L. Smail (et al.) (2011). Deep History: The architecture of past and present. 

Gamble, C. (2013). Settling the Earth: The Archaeology of deep human history. 

Johanson, D. & B. Edgar (1996). From Lucy to language. 

Gamble, C., Gowlett, J. & R (2014). Thinking Big: How the evolution of social life shaped the human mind. 

Stringer, C. & P. Andrews (2005). The complete world of human evolution. 

Klein, R.G. (2009). The human career: human biological and cultural origins. 

Gamble C.S. (2007). Origins and revolutions: human identity in earliest prehistory. 

Ingold, T. (2000). The perception of the environment: essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill. 

Kelly,R.L. (2013). The foraging spectrum. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 60%
PowerPoint project 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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