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Assessed Seminar: Neanderthals - ARC00088H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Penny Spikins
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Whatever image the word 'Neanderthal' conjures up for you - from club-wielding cave-dweller to gentle giant - Neanderthals hold a special fascination for almost everyone. Though regarded by most as a separate species, they were the contemporaries of modern humans (like ourselves) in Europe for around ten thousand years. The nature of our close cousins and the interaction between the two populations has been the topic of heated debate for decades. Whilst some argue that Neanderthals were fundamentally human as we are, the archaeological record has also been used to suggest radical differences such as markedly different hunting practices and subsistence needs, differences in social relationships, differing experiences of childhood and family structure and changes in the use of language, art and symbolism, even deep-rooted differences in cognitive abilities that go beyond simple 'intelligence'. New explanations for the enigma of Neanderthal extinction are constantly being discovered, with research into Neanderthals is one of the fastest changing areas of the human past.

In these seminars we will pick key themes and explore the most significant debates. We will also address some of the key questions and encourage you to decide on your own interpretations.

Related modules

A directed option - students must pick an Assessed Seminar module and have a choice of which to take

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

Assessed Seminars seek to develop an understanding of a specialist topic (particularly a critical understanding of the key themes, approaches and opinions). In doing so students should be able to improve their knowledge of the subject area (through reading and preparation for their own seminar, their seminar contributions and involvement in the seminars) and also have the opportunity to develop their skills in chairing a seminar, presenting material and being involved in discussion (including thinking on their feet about the topic being discussed, how to engage interest in the topic and stimulate debate).

Specifically this module aims to

  • Develop your knowledge and understanding of the evidence for Neanderthal occupation of Europe (from biological or cultural perspectives)
  • Develop your critical perspective on interpretations of Neanderthal cognition, behaviour and culture
  • Develop an understanding of the similarities or differences between Neanderthals and modern humans and how these have been approached in the literature.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • exhibit an understanding of the theoretical, methodological and ethical issues related to the study of Neanderthals
  • demonstrate they are familiar with the key literature and debates on Neanderthals
  • explore a range of case studies and interpretations
  • prepare a worksheet which sets out key reading and issues for presentation, debate and discussion
  • chair a seminar, engage interest in a topic, stimulate debate and structure discussion
  • present on other subjects within the general theme and contribute informed ideas and information to the other seminars

Module content

In a series of lectures and workshops, students will become familiar with the theme of the module. Students will then choose a topic around which they will design and chair a seminar. Seminars and class discussion will encourage a critical approach to the literature and provide preparation for chairing and presenting.

After an initial introduction to the archaeological and biological evidence and to the ‘big questions’, we will consider key topics suitable for development as a seminar. These topics allow you to develop your own particular interests and perspectives and can include not only archaeological approaches but evolutionary and biological approaches, as well as historical approaches. You will consider some of the key questions such as around diet, biological differences and energy use, reproduction, cognition, communication and language, childhood, technology, subsistence practices, art, mortuary practices community cohesion and many others besides. We will also consider the demise of Neanderthals (with interbreeding), and the potential reasons for this from the structural elements of Neanderthal demography to the rather more random potential effects of infectious diseases or unique adaptations or cultural practices. We will consider some of the latest scientific evidence and how changes in our interpretations reflect both our deep set assumptions about our close cousins as well as changes in evidence.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
1 hours 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Contribution to seminars
N/A 10
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 1
0.17 hours 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 2
0.17 hours 20

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will hand in worksheets before consolidation week (in Week 5) so staff can work out schedule for students chairing and delivering presentations. Students will need to hand in presentation slides by week 8, either with pre-recorded narration or without if they opt to do it live. Student-run seminars will run from Week 9 to Week 11 where students will chair a 1hr session. Within these seminars, contributions from students will be assessed.


Task Length % of module mark
Short report on best practice in chairing
N/A 25
N/A 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pre-recorded Presentation 1
N/A 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pre-recorded Presentation 2
N/A 25

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

Spikins, P. (2022). Reframing Neanderthals. In P. Spikins Hidden Depths: the origins of human connection, White Rose University Press.

Wragg Sykes, R. (2020). Kindred: Neanderthal life, love, death and art. Bloomsbury Sigma.

Harvati, K. (2015) Neanderthals and their contemporaries, in W. Henke and I. Tattersall (eds.) Handbook of Palaeoanthropology 2243-2279

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.