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What is the CECD? 
The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 1: Ecological dimensions of cultural evolution: Project 027
Planning, memory and mobility in the European Palaeolithic

SUPERVISOR: - James Steele

Chris Duke


This thesis involves a reassessment of the archaeological evidence for the ability to plan ahead during the European Palaeolithic. The ability to plan ahead is seen as a defining characteristic of modern humans, allowing us to cope with periods of resource scarcity by using techniques such as storage. This research focuses upon how archaeologists have used the relationship between the final state of discard of a stone tool and the distance over which the tool has traveled from its geological source to make conclusions about this ability in archaic hominins and anatomically modern humans. It is argued that there are a number of theoretical and methodological problems with using such an approach. These include a lack of clarification of what aspects of cognition are required in order for modern humans to be able to plan and anticipate future events, and a lack of acknowledgement that the geological distribution of stone influenced where hominins moved. These problems are addressed by developing a geographical information system-based methodology for the analysis of raw material transfer data that is cognizant of these issues.
This thesis contributes to Palaeolithic scholarship in a number of ways. In relation to current archaeological approaches to the study of lithic transfer data, it suggests that applying behavioural generalisations gleaned from the study of modern hunter-gatherers to Palaeolithic hominins is not always appropriate. This is demonstrated by the reassessment of the academic origin of these generalisations. It is also highlighted by the fact that there is a demonstrable relationship between raw material transfer distances and variation in the lithic and biotic environment during the European Palaeolithic, and that the nature of this relationship varies both spatially and temporally. In relation to the evolution of planning, this thesis suggests that the ability to plan arose early on in human evolution and was originally linked to the maintenance of social bonds in fission-fusion groups. Only later on in time was the ability exapted to be used in other cognitive domains, meaning that no new cognitive mechanisms related to planning appeared with the appearance of anatomically modern humans. Instead this thesis suggests that rather than viewing archaeological evidence of behavioural differences between archaic and modern hominins as evidence of fundamental genetic differences between the two, we should view such differences as evidence of different skill learning trajectories. With this in mind, this thesis contends that there is some evidence for the ability to plan in the European Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. Along with these findings, the originality of this thesis is expressed in the development of new digital models that can be used to represent environmental variation during the European Palaeolithic. The originality is also expressed in a new methodology for the analysis of lithic raw material transfer data. As well as highlighting some of the problems with current approaches to the study of these data, this methodology can also be used to pinpoint areas of Europe that may be of interest for more localised, site-based archaeological research.

Duke, C (2003).
Quantifying Palaeolithic landscapes: computer approaches to terrain analysis and visualisation. In: Doerr, M. & Sarris A (eds.) (ed\s) Proceedings of the 29th CAA conference held at Heraklion, Crete, Greece, April 2002. Heraklion: Hellenic Ministry of Culture. 139-146.