A tale of two species: constructing chronologies for patterns of change in the behaviour of Neanderthals and early modern humans

This 5-year Discovery Project (2010-2014) to Zenobia Jacobs has been funded by the Australian Research Council to establish the timing of major turning points in the behaviour of Homo sapiens in Africa and Neanderthals in France between 160,000 and 50,000 years ago. Some researchers consider that Neanderthal behaviour embraced the full range of ‘modern’ technology, subsistence and symbolism, whereas others argue that significant differences in behaviour existed between the two species. So the fundamental question remains: did Homo sapiens have superior and more complex behaviour than that of other species — giving us a competitive advantage — or did something else lead to the demise of the Neanderthals?

In this project, Zenobia aims to provide a firm chronological foundation to answer this question. Her main objective is to provide a reliable timeframe for investigating the similarities and differences between the behavioural patterns of Neanderthals in France and early Homo sapiens in Morocco, Libya and southern Africa at a time when — and in localities where — they are known to have not interacted. This will inform us about when, where and perhaps why significant changes occurred in the behaviour of these two species. The data acquired in France will be compared to the data acquired from Homo sapiens sites in Morocco and in South Africa.

Zenobia is collaborating with archaeologists working in all three regions to provide answers to some of these fundamental questions.

Main collaborators
  • Graeme Barker, McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Harold Dibble, School of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  • Chris Henshilwood, Department of Archaeology, University of Bergen, Norway and Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Jean-Jacques Hublin, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • Curtis Marean, Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, USA
  • Shannon McPherron, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • Roland Nespoulet, Département de Préhistoire, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, France
  • Marie Soressi, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Preventives (INRAP), France
Key publications
  • Barker, G., Basell, L., Brooks, I., Burn, L., Cartwright, C., Cole, F., Davison, J., Farr, L., Grün, R., Hamilton, R., Hunt, C., Inglis, R., Jacobs, Z., Leitch, V., Morales, J., Morley, I., Morley, M., Pawley, S., Pryor, A., Rabett, R., Reynolds, T., el-Rishi, H., Roberts, R., Simpson, D., Stimpson, C., Touati, M. & Van der Veen, M. (2008). The Cyrenaican Prehistory Project 2008: the second season of investigations of the Haua Fteah cave and its landscape, and further results from the initial (2007) fieldwork. Libyan Studies 39, 175-221.
  • Jacobs, Z., Roberts, R.G., Nespoulet & R., El Hajraoui, A. (to be submitted). Single-grain OSL dating of Middle Palaeolithic deposits from El Mnasra and El Harhoura 2 in Morocco, northwestern Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science.

Tale of 2 species 2Tale of 2 species 1

Tale of 2 species 4Tale of 2 species 3
Clockwise from top left: Excavations at Smugglers’ Cave in Morocco; an Aterian stemmed artefact from Morocco; The Neanderthal statue overlooking the Dordogne valley in Les Eysies, France;  Excavations at Les Cottés, France.

Print pdf version of this page

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2017