Skip to main content


ARA3118 : Origins and Transformations: Early Prehistoric Europe

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Chantal Conneller
  • Lecturer: Dr Eline Van Asperen
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This course aims to give students an advanced understanding key transformations in human society from the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Europe to the end of the Mesolithic (c40,000-4000BC). This vast periods of time encompasses dramatic transformations in society, beliefs, climate and landscape.

The course will examine a number of the key debates and themes for this period, such as the extinction of the Neanderthals, Upper Palaeolithic art, the emergence Mesolithic cemeteries and human responses to dramatic climate change. We will think critically about approaches to origins research, and the impact of early prehistory on the present. Lectures will explore how early prehistorians deal with the fragile and fragmentary archaeological record for this period (human fossils, stone tool, animal remains) to understand the big issues of the time. The course will explore how archaeologists have dealt with this ephemeral evidence to produce rich and varied accounts of Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic life.


• To develop students’ understanding of the key issues and debates the European Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic.
• To familiarise students with the material remains of Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic life and the historical context of its interpretation.
• To introduce students to the methodologies and theoretical approaches used by archaeologists to address this material and the problems that these pose.
• To familiarise students with the major environmental changes of the period.
• To enable students to think critically about the socio-political aspects of origins research

Outline Of Syllabus

The syllabus may vary slightly from year to year, but the following is indicative of the module structure:
      Week 1.
      Lecture (1hr) Introduction
      Lecture (1hr) Quaternary environments and climate change
      Seminar (1 hr) Imagining Neanderthals: popular depictions of early life
      Week 2
      Lecture (1hr) The emergence of Modern Humans
      Lecture (1hr) Neanderthals: Interaction and extinction
      Seminar (1hr) Debate: Sapiens v Neanderthals
      Week 3.
      Lecture (1hr) The Aurignacian: origins of art and adornment?
      Lecture (1hr) Venuses and vengeful spirits: The Gravettian
      Seminar (1hr). Gravettian burials
      Week 4.
      Lecture (1hr) Life in the Ice Age
      Lecture (1hr) ‘A cavalcade of animals’: The Magdalenian apogee of cave art
      Seminar (1hr) The Venus figurines
      Week 5.
      Lecture (1hr) The reoccupation of northern Europe
      Lecture (1hr) Ice Age Fauna
      Seminar (1hr) Interpreting cave art
      Week 6.
      Lecture (1hr) What is the Mesolithic?
      Lecture (1hr) Sea-level rise and environmental change
      Seminar (1hr) Shamanism
      Week 7.
      Lecture (1hr) Mesolithic cemeteries
      Lecture (1hr) Alternative mortuary traditions: extended processes
      Seminar (1hr) Death, bodies and identities
      Week 8.
      Lecture (1hr) The Early Mesolithic in Southern Scandinavia and Northern Germany
      Lecture (1hr) Complex hunter-gatherers of the Late Mesolithic
      Seminar (1hr) Social Complexity
      Week 9.
      Lecture (1hr) Early Mesolithic Britain
      Lecture (1hr) Late Mesolithic Britain and Ireland
      Seminar (1hr) Mesolithic houses
      Week 10
      Lecture (1hr) Mesolithic France
      Lecture (1hr) The Greek Mesolithic
Museum practical (1hr)
      Week 11.
      Fieldtrip to Creswell Crags (6hr)

Week 12
      Lecture (1hr) Times of change in the Iron Gates Gorge
Film: the art of Chauvet (2hr)

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists