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ARA3118 : Origins and Transformations: Early Prehistoric Europe

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • 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) Museum practical
      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 in northern France
      Fieldtrip to Creswell Crags (1 day)
      Week 11.
      Lecture (1hr) The Greek Mesolithic
      Lecture (1hr) Times of change in the Iron Gates Gorge
Seminar (1hr) Shamanism

Week 12
Seminar (1hr) revision session

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture211:0021:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion651:0065:001/3 Guided independent study
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading651:0065:001/3 Guided independent study
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical11:001:00Artefact handling
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork16:006:00Fieldtrip to Creswell Crags
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study321:0032:001/3 Guided independent study
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
ARA8118Origins and Transformations: Early Prehistoric Europe
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

A series of subject-specific lectures will provide a detailed outline of key transformations in human society during the period with the impact of environmental change highlighted. Seminars will provide students with the opportunity to explore key debates in greater depth and in particular have been designed to encourage students to interpret archaeological evidence in an imaginative manner, and to critically explore the socio-political effects of origins research. Seminars, structured round small group work and discussion and including a formal debate, provide an opportunity for teamwork, peer-review and oral presentation. A museum practical will give students the opportunity for in depth examination of material culture of the period that has been introduced to them in the lectures. The fieldtrip will allow students to explore a key complex of sites in its landscape setting.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M602500 words on Upper Palaeolithic topic
Research proposal2M402000 words on project to reinterpret key Mesolithic site
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Assessment will permit students to explore module themes through independent research, build arguments from the evidence of the period, critically reflect on key debates and develop their writing style. The essay is designed for students to focus on key debates in the Upper Palaeolithic, critically assess competing interpretations and draw on archaeological evidence to evaluate arguments and offer original interpretations. The project allows students to focus in detail on an iconic Mesolithic site, to evaluate its significance and offer their own proposal for future research, testing their knowledge of the material, as well as imagination and originality.

This module can be made available to Erasmus students only with the agreement of the Head of Subject and of the Module Leader. This option must be discussed in person at the beginning of your exchange period. No restrictions apply to study-abroad, exchange and Loyola students.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only: The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.
Modules assessed by Coursework only: All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.

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