Human behaviour in the Palaeolithic (2005-2011)

An evolutionary approach to human behaviour in the Palaeolithic. The diet breath model and competition during MIS 3 in France. (Doctoral research: Dieter Jehs)

The dynamics underlying the transition from the Middle to the Late Palaeolithic, about 40 000 years ago, constitute one of the oldest research questions in the field of prehistoric archaeology of Europe. Permeating this "transition debate" is the concept of "modernity", capturing what it means to be "modern" (in a cognitive and/or behavioural sense) and as such, has been based on what are perceived to be derived traits of H.s. sapiens.

As a conceptual frame of reference it has informed the interpretation of two phenomena that together, make up the core of the debate: a physiological shift from a robust to a gracile morphology (archaic to modern Homo sapiens, or in Western Europe, Neanderthal to H.s. sapiens), and a behavioural/cultural (r)evolution to what is considered to be a symbol-driven, essentially modern culture.

As a direct consequence of chronometric problems, as well as the absence of undisputed  associations between human remains and (mostly,) lithic artefacts attributable to the typotechnological entities of the time (e.g. the Chatelperronian and the Aurignacian), both phenomena have been explained in different ways, resulting in a patch work of mostly conflicting transition scenarios. According to one important thread running through a number of these scenarios, the disappearance of the Neanderthals should be put down to (economic) competition with the immigrant modern (and often assumed to be superior) populations.

This study aimes to evaluate this assumption of (economic) competition. To do so, the viability of the concept of "modernity" as a frame of reference for the transition debate is questioned, and rejected, on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Secondly, an unbiased and explicatory (rather than a purely descriptive) frame of reference is adopted from the field of behavioural ecology, and adapted to the hunting faunas of the last glacial cycle (with a focus on the transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic), and the way these can inform us about the possible competition between the makers of the Mousterian, Chatelperronian, and Aurignacian in France. As such, this Ph.D. research aims to elucidate the importance of competition between typotechnological entities in a set geotemporal context, as a proxy for, or first step towards, the evaluation of the competition hypothesis between human populations.


  • Jehs D. (2011). The modernity myth. Notae Praehistoricae 31: 69-85.
  • Jehs D. & De Smet D. (2011).  The basic prey model in «deep time»: the exploitation of ani-mal resources during MIS 3-5e in France. Notae Praehistoricae 31: 157-182.
  • Jehs D. & De Smet D. (2012). The basic prey model in “deep time”, part 2: competition during MIS 3 in France? Notae Praehistoricae 32: 175-184.


Prof Dr Philippe Crombé

Dr Dieter Jehs