Institute of Archaeology

Archaeology of Human Evolution in Africa


The focus of this course will be the behavioural characteristics of early humans in Africa. This course will describe when and how the first archaeological sites appeared in the African continent. Then the first dispersal of Homo outside of Eastern Africa will be modelled, as well as the colonization of the rest of the continent and the so-called out of Africa. The last lectures will be dedicated to the origins of modern humans in Africa, and the cultural characteristics of the Middle Stone Age.

Aims of the course and objectives

The focus of this course is the study of the behavioural characteristics of early humans in Africa. First, a description of the sedimentary and chrono- stratigraphic record of the Rift Valley will be provided, in order to understand why the early archaeological sites are found in Africa.

After this introduction to the geological background, we will discuss the archaeological record in more detail. First lectures will describe when and how first archaeological sites appeared. The cognitive status of early human technologies will be discussed in depth, describing later on how Oldowan developed during the Early Pleistocene. This Early Pleistocene record and the behavioural models proposed for explaining the configuration of Oldowan sites will be another main topic during the module.

The beginnings of the Acheulean and the disappearance of the Oldowan technology will also be considered from an evolutionary perspective, trying to understand the ecological and behavioural implications of this new culture in Africa. Last lectures will be devoted to discuss the origins of modern humans in Africa, the cognitive implications of this new genus of Homo, and the cultural characteristics of the Middle Stone Age.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the course, students should demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge on the Archaeology of Human Evolution in Africa. Students will be able to read critically scientific publications, identify the key elements of the African Stone Age material culture, and include it in the evolutionary framework required for the interpretation of the behaviour of archaic humans. In addition, the development of seminars will support the acquisition of oral presentation skills and debate abilities.

Teaching Methods

This course will involve three lectures (6 hours), three practical classes (6 hours) and four seminars (8 hours). The structure of seminars will be as follows: a short presentation of the case study will be introduced by the course coordinator. Then, a student or a reduced group of students will support a hypothesis on the interpretation of the topic, basing their arguments on the bibliography provided. Later on, another group of students will support an alternative archaeological hypothesis, again through the suggested articles. It is expected that the exposition of rival explanations on the interpretation of case studies will create a discussion environment in which all students will participate. The composition of discussion groups will depend on the size of the class, but all sessions are compulsory for all students. Seminars have recommended articles, which all students (and not only those involved in the discussion groups) are expected to have read, in order to contribute actively to the discussion. Composition of discussion groups and selection of seminar topics will be arranged at the beginning of the course.

Course information

  • Code: ARCLG176
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Ignacio de la Torre
  • Prerequisite: This course does not have a prerequisite.
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students

  • Moodle page: open»
  • Reading list:


  • Running in 2017-18

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