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The University of Southampton

ARCH6121 Contexts for Human Origins Research

Module Overview

The module will focus on the major questions which have been, and are being, asked of Palaeolithic data. These include such issues as language origins, global colonisation, population replacement, and hominin responses to palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental change. We shall explore these in two ways: thematically, showing how each independent research framework contributes to origins research (conducted in the seminars), and site-based, using records from key sites to evaluate the extent and durability of traits in the Palaeolithic (achieved within oral presentations).

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Understanding of the interdisciplinary environment of Palaeolithic studies
  • Understanding of the major research themes for the period
  • Knowledge of the historical basis for Palaeolithic research
  • Evaluation of the applicability of different conceptual frameworks to the investigation of Palaeolithic data
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate effective use of a variety of information sources – book, journal, internet
  • Present information to a group through regular seminar contributions
  • Undertake oral presentations
  • Distil a wide variety of data and ideas to address key issues within oral presentations and a PowerPoint summary of a seminar discussion
  • Evaluate information on an independent basis
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Integrate theoretical issues and archaeological questions with published data from key archaeological sites
  • Identify key areas of research in the study of human origins and Palaeolithic archaeology
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand how to evaluate research questions
  • Integrate data and concepts to answer research questions
  • Critically assess the concepts of others
  • Evaluate the interpretation of data


Typically, the syllabus will cover the following: Seminar: - - Orientation & introduction to the course - The use of analogy in archaeological interpretation - Evolutionary and social models: frameworks for analysis. - Palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental reconstructions - Integrity & resolution in the archaeological record - Groups and individuals in the Palaeolithic - Time & temporality - Place and space - Transitions (i): biological (brains, populations and genes). - Transitions (ii): social (technology, mind and identity/ethnicity) - Transitions (iii): society (language, symbolism and social evolution). - Hominins on the move Presentations: - - Chimpanzee technology; Oldowan and Acheulean. - Acheulean makers and lifestyles; Acheulean as a technological mode. - Middle Pleistocene regional variability; the “Acheulean World.” - Homo ergaster colonisation; Lower Palaeolithic chronologies - The origins of Prepared Core Technologies; PCT as a technological mode - Neanderthal specialised hunting; characterising Neanderthal society - Homo sapiens & Neanderthals; European Upper Palaeolithic “revolution.” - Defining “modern humans”; why is “modernity” an odd concept? - Aurignacian dispersal; Gravettian as truly “Upper Palaeolithic.” - Cave art and refugia; characterising the late Upper Palaeolithic. - Colonisation of Australia; Tasmanian prehistoric settlement & technology. - Colonising the Americas; dispersal routes into the Americas.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module examines in detail the leading questions of contemporary enquiry into the Palaeolithic. Who are we, and how did we come to be the way we are? Discussion is conducted through student-led seminars and presentations on given topics given by students. The approach is essentially theoretical, but the practical applications of this theory to the Palaeolithic record will be emphasised. You will have the opportunity of testing ideas with leading figures in interpreting the Palaeolithic record. The module will be taught through a mixture of student-led seminars and presentations, for which reading lists are provided. Independent study will include preparation for an essay, for presentations and seminars.

Wider reading or practice6
Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Completion of assessment task60
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Binford, L.R. (2001). Constructing Frames of Reference: An analytical method for archaeological theory building using ethnographic and environmental datasets. 

Gosden, C. (1999). Anthropology and archaeology: a changing relationship. 

Gamble, C. & M. Porr (2005). The Hominid Individual in Context: Archaeological investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic landscapes, locales and artefacts. 

Gamble, C.S. (2007). Origins and Revolutions: Human identity in earliest prehistory. 

Klein, R. (2009). The Human Career: Human biological and cultural origins. 

Resources. The module relies on the continued availability of equipment and software, specifically ArcGIS and ERDAS Imagine (for which we currently have Chest licenses) and availability of Survey equipment. The module also requires continued availability of the Digital Humanities workstation cluster in B65a.

Mithen, S. (2003). After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC. 

Petraglia, M. & R. Korisettar (eds.) (1998). Early human behaviour in global context. 

Stringer, C. & P. Andrews (2005). The Complete World of Human Evolution. 

Dobres, M.-A. (2000). Technology and social agency. 

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

Lowe, J.J. & M.J.C. Walker (1997). Reconstructing Quaternary Environments. 

van Andel, T.H. & W. Davies (eds.) (2003). Neanderthals and modern humans in the European landscape during the last glaciation. 



Class discussions


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 50%
Presentation  (20 minutes) 25%
Presentation  (20 minutes) 25%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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