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Hunter-Gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic - ARC00019M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Andy Needham
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

On this course we consider the origin, spread and characteristics of modern hunting and gathering populations from their earliest emergence over a hundred thousand years ago. We particularly focus on how we can use insights from ethnographically documented foraging societies to contribute to key archaeological debates about populations living in Ice Age Europe (the Upper Palaeolithic). We consider topics such as the motivations underlying colonisation, the maintenance of egalitarianism and regional social connections, explanations for violence and feuding, relationships with animals and the meaning behind upper Palaeolithic art.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

  • to  overview the origins and spread of modern human hunter-gatherers

  • to consider key characteristics defining the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers, with a particular focus on hunter-gatherer societies in Ice Age europe (the European Upper Palaeolithic)

  • to  consider how insights from modern ethnographically documented populations can contribute to key debates within interpretations of European Upper Palaeolithic archaeology

Module learning outcomes

  • Have a good understanding of origins and key characteristics of hunter-gatherer societies

  • Have developed a critical awareness of approaches to hunter-gatherer societies

  • Be familiar with archaeological evidence from the European Upper Palaeolithic (Ice Age Europe) 

  • Be able to use ethnographic analogies to gain new insights into key debates within Upper Palaeolithic archaeology

  • Have developed their writing skills through assessed essays

  • Have presented their research through seminar presentations

Module content

We first outline the emergence and spread of modern hunting and gathering populations from their origins in Africa over 100,000 years ago. We then consider key traits of hunting and gathering societies before considering the archaeological evidence for hunter-gatherers living in Ice Age Europe (the Upper Palaeolithic). We critically discuss key debates including the meaning of upper palaeolithic art, the domestication of wolves, the maintenance of egalitarianism and the significance of regional social connections. We consider how novel ethnographic analogies can contribute to these debates.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay - 3500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay - 3500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback will be available within 6 weeks

Indicative reading

Cummings, V. (2014) Introduction: Can the study of modern Hunter gatherers help us understand the past? In V. Cummings The anthropology of Hunter gatherers: Key themes for archaeologists. Bloomsbury academic (e-book) 

Pettitt, P. (2018) The rise of modern humans (chapter four) in C. Scarre The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies, Thames and Hudson, pages 137-147

Pettitt, P. The European Upper Palaeolithic in Cummings, V et al (2014) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers, Oxford University Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.