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J Hum Evol. 2001 Nov;41(5):437-61.

Hominid behaviour and the earliest occupation of Europe: an exploration.

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  • 1Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.


The last decade has witnessed a heated debate over the age and the character of the earliest occupation of Europe. This paper addresses two aspects of the debate, one dealing with the chronology of occupation, which is put to use in the second issue, an exploration of the behaviour of the earliest occupants of Europe. The review of the debate on chronology concludes that a short chronology applies to Europe north of the large mountain chains of the Alps and the Pyrenees, where the earliest traces of a human presence date back to about half a million years ago. In this phased-colonisation model, the Mediterranean, and especially Spain, saw an earlier occupation, starting around the end of the Lower Pleistocene. The archaeological record of these first Europeans suggests that from the first presence in northern Europe onwards, regular hunting of large game was common practice among Middle Pleistocene hominids. By situating this archaeological evidence in the context of findings from a range of other disciplines I develop a behavioural scenario which suggests that, at its latest by the Middle Pleistocene, increased forms of social cooperation, exchange of information within larger groups and in general forms of behaviour based on a "release from proximity" had become a standard ingredient of the hominid behavioural repertoire.

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