Research
Themes

Research | Research Themes

KEY THEMES IN HUMAN BEHAVIOURAL EVOLUTION

Our research themes and their projects are conceived to be of short- to mid-term duration.

Interglacials: Human Behavioural Strategies
Subsistence
Organization of Early Social Systems

Interglacials

Research | Research Themes | Interglacials

HUMAN BEHAVIOURAL STRATEGIES IN INTERGLACIAL ENVIRONMENTS

How climate change let us grow.

Climate change is as much a part of human evolution as is sibling rivalry. It lets us grow and forces us to adopt new ways. And in the future it will again open a new chapter – or close our history book forever. High time, therefore, to investigate the role of climate change in the evolution of our present day behaviour.

Global Warming every 100,000 Years

The global warming facing us is of catastrophic proportions, but is far from being the first one in the course of human history. Previous phases of warm climate, so called interglacials, occurred repeatedly at regular intervals. They provide archaeologists with ideal conditions for research:

  • Finds from interglacials are often well preserved. High resolution archaeological and climatic archives provide the conditions necessary for deciphering the complex interactions between environmental influences and patterns of human behaviour.
  • Survival strategies in the forested interglacials presented humans with extreme challenges.
  • We examine how our ancestors met these challenges, and which forms of behaviour they passed on to their descendants, from the Middle Pleistocene, some 500,000 years ago, up until the present Holocene interglacial period.

On the shoulders of giants

By choosing similar environmental backgrounds we study the evolution of human behaviour as if through a filter. The diachronic comparison shows how human behaviour in equivalent environmental situations has developed at different times.

Current research projects are concentrated on the development of behaviour during the earlier interglacials. Bilzingsleben, Neumark-Nord und Schöningen are the most important sites from the periods around 400,000 and 120,000 years ago.

This research integrates and complements the results of recently concluded projects investigating survival strategies at the beginning of the Holocene (present day) interglacial.

Subsistence

Research | Research Themes | Subsistence

HUNGER FUELS THE MOTOR OF OUR BEHAVIOURAL EVOLUTION

Subsistence is the key to our behavioural evolution.

As omnivores humans are inventive at acquiring food – but at the same time very selective about what they eat.

We study all aspects of subsistence from the choice, acquirement and processing of nutritional resources, to methods of storage and the technologies and systems of landscape exploitation implicit to these. Developments in settlement behaviour and social structures are linked inextricably to subsistence.

Two major evolutionary advances stand out in particular:

  • The emergence of large game hunting, one of the most important chapters in the story of our behavioural evolution.
  • The development of our present day dietary patterns due to the intensification of exploitation of local resources and, ultimately, the targeted cultivation and domestication of some these.

Organization of Early Social Systems

Research | Research Themes | Organization of Early Social Systems

LIVING TOGETHER RELIES ON OUR NORMS AND CONVENTIONS

They determine the assignment of tasks and social roles and our management of space and time.

Human society is organized along a set of rules established 40,000 years ago, a moment in time when the archaeological record changes dramatically. From this time we see the regular appearance of functionally specific settlement units. Art, ritual and burials show that humans are now also concerned with a world beyond that which they could experience directly.

Our research projects investigate the emergence and establishment of social organization. One emphasis is on the study of “pioneer phases” in the settlement of new landscapes. Another is focused on the final part of the Ice Age, when localities such as Gönnersdorf, Andernach or Oelknitz, which were occupied intensively over a long period of time, present a veritable compendium of rules for social organization and their interaction with cosmological beliefs.