QLD: Working Paper with Professor Graeme Barker

Event Details

Speaker: Professor Graeme Barker, University of Cambridge


Title: A Tale of Two Caves, or, Why Was Our Species So Successful At Colonising New Environments?


Abstract: There has been much recent discussion on the nature of ‘behavioural modernity’: how can it be defined? how can archaeologists recognise it? when, where, how and why did it develop? And is it, in case, a useful concept for us to apply to the archaeological record of Homo sapiens and contemporary species? There is no question about the success of our species in colonising new environments in the late Pleistocene: wecolonised the globe at a time of profound, often abrupt, climatic change which saw the demise of Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo floresiensis. What behaviours and strategies were involved in these dispersals? These questions have been investigated in two inter-disciplinary field project, re-excavations of famous caves excavated over 50 years ago, both of which have yielded early fossils of Homo sapiens: Niah Great Cave in the rainforest zone of Sarawak, northern Borneo, and the Haua Fteah on the semi-arid coast of Libya in North Africa. What can we learn of the behaviours developed by early Homo sapiens for living in these very different environments, and for adapting to climate-induced changes to those environments, and how does that contribute to the big debates about the global dispersal of a ‘behaviourally modern’ species?


Bio: Graeme Barker is Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, and Professorial Fellow at St John’s College Cambridge.  After training in archaeology at Cambridge his career took him to the University of Sheffield, the British School at Rome and the University of Leicester, before he returned to Cambridge in 2004.  He has researched extensively on the long-term interactions between people and landscape, and on the lessons of the past for present and future sustainability, a theme he has investigated through major field projects in arid, semi-arid and tropical landscapes (he is currently working in Borneo and Libya and is about to start a new field project in Iraqi Kurdistan). He has published more than 30 books and 250 papers.