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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 033
Climate, cognition and population dynamics in the African Late Pleistocene

SUPERVISOR: - Leslie Aiello

Angela Shackleton (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)


The aim of this project is to provide a fresh approach to the study of human origins (in particular the origins of modern human behaviours) by focusing on climate and population dynamics. The goal is to model changing patterns of cultural complexity in Africa during the Late Pleistocene (~300Ka to ~40Ka) and to examine its causes and implications.

The project will ask whether cultural evolution occurring in Africa between the late Early Stone Age and the Late Stone Age is a function of enhanced cognitive abilities or of population dynamics. It will thus examine the possibility that the key to the evolution of modern human behaviours is population continuity versus discontinuity.

The project will examine the relationships in Africa between climate change, cultural evolution and population dynamics during the late ESA, the MSA and the LSA. It will focus on this question: do cultural 'fluorescences' occur when conditions are favourable and population levels are high, or when conditions are challenging and populations are under threat? By answering this question, it aims to predict under which climatic conditions we would expect Late Pleistocene cultures to flourish or disappear. In this way, it aims to shed new light on apparent differences in cognitive-cultural evolution between Homo sapiens in Africa and the Neanderthals in Eurasia.

The proposed methodology is a cross-disciplinary study that ties together climate evidence, genetic/fossil evidence, and archaeological evidence for population dynamics, cultural complexity and cultural change. Additionally, computer simulations will be used to derive predictions for the effects of population dynamics on cultural complexity.