Institute of Archaeology

Evolution of the Human Brain and Behaviour


This course will examine the evidence for the evolution of the human brain, of social intelligence, and of the cognitive dimensions of cultural transmission. Students will assess the evidence from a wide range of disciplines including not only archaeology and anthropology, but also cognitive neuroscience and neuroanatomy, comparative and developmental psychology, primatology and evolutionary biology, to investigate how and why human brains are adapted to a culturally-constructed niche involving the learned use of (and dependence on) languages, artefacts, and social norms. By the end of the course, students will be familiar with the strengths and limitations of the different forms of evidence available for tracking the evolution of this distinctively human adaptive strategy.

Further Reading:

Fitch, W.T. (2010). The Evolution of Language. Cambridge University Press.

Gowlett, J., Gamble, C. & Dunbar, R. (2012). Human evolution and the archaeology of the social brain. Current Anthropology 53: 693-722.

Isler, K. & van Schaik, C.P. (2009). The Expensive Brain: a framework for explaining evolutionary changes in brain size. Journal of Human Evolution 57, 392-400.

Sherwood, C.C., Suniaul, F. & Zawidzki, T. W. (2008). A natural history of the human mind: tracing evolutionary changes in brain and cognition. Journal of Anatomy 212, 426-454.

Steele, J., Ferrari, P.-F., & Fogassi, L. (eds) (2012) Special Issue on 'From action to language: comparative perspectives on primate tool use, gesture and the evolution of human language.' Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 367 (1585).

Whiten, A., Hinde, R.A., Stringer, C.B. & Laland, K.N. (eds) (2011) Special Issue on ‘Culture evolves'. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B 366 (1567).

Course information

For registered students


  • Running in 2017-18

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