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Geographic focus areas

Western Eurasia, Near East, Arabia

Chronocultural research focus

Middle and Upper Palaeolithic

Current projects

The epistemology of lithic analysis in palaeolithic archaeology
(Ph.D. Dissertation, supervised by Prof. Dr. Raymond Corbey (Leiden/Tilburg)/Prof. Dr. Marie Soressi (Leiden)/Dr. Krist Vaesen (Eindhoven/Leiden), supported by the Studienstiftung des Deut­schen Volkes)

Research angles/interests

Epistemology/history of palaeolithic archaeology
Throughout the last century, palaeolithic archaeology has considerably sharpened the outline of its disciplinary identity. Little has been done, however, in terms of reflecting on these foundations from a history and philosophy of science perspective thus far. What is the epistemological and conceptual fabric of palaeolithic archaeology, as we know it today? In the face of methodological plurality and often radically diverging research traditions, it seems of crucial importance to analyse and deconstruct the underlying historical and conceptual constituents of ongoing research in the discipline. Only by gaining a better understanding of anchoring terms as well as of key ideas and legacies will it be possible to fruitfully reconcile different research trajectories in the future and thus to place the discipline on more solid theoretical and methodological grounds. Along those lines, I am currently investigating different notions of technology and their ontological, empirical and methodological consequences for the study of Pleistocene lithic assemblages.

Lithic technologies
Lithic technology studies are at the heart of palaeolithic archaeology and constitute the main body of evidence for reconstructing and interpreting past human and/or hominin lifeways. I was trained in identifying, analysing and interpreting stone artefacts and this remains one of my core competencies as palaeolithic archaeologist. I navigate between the interpretive French tradition using chaîne opératoire methods and emphasising the sociocultural embeddedness of lithic technology on the one hand, and the descriptive German tradition largely conducting attribute analysis on the other. However, I try to take a holistic perspective on lithic technology in which artefacts are contextualised in time and space, and constantly strive to refine our methodological and theoretical understanding of lithic archives from the deep past. This also includes the recognition of sociological, cognitive, philosophical and anthropological perspectives on knapped stone technology. Currently, I work on Middle Palaeolithic, Early Upper Palaeolithic (Ahmarian) and Final Upper Palaeolithic assemblages from Jordan and was involved in lithic analysis projects in Germany and Austria in the past.

Ontological palaeoarchaeology
The ‘foreign’, ‘unknown’ and ‘alien’ (alterity) remains one of the most important and pertinent anthropological research topics of our time. Material remains that we uncover from the earth as archaeologists were probably made and used in sociocultural frameworks radically different from our own. These contrasting ways-of-being often imply diverging ways-of-relating-to and different ways-of-seeing the world. If palaeolithic archaeology wants to retain its status as anthropological discipline, the ontological ‘foreign’ of palaeolithic lifeways must come to the forefront of academic inquiry. In what way are palaeolithic societies different, how do they conceptualise the world, understand their place in it, and see other entities inhabiting the same landscapes? Inspired by ongoing developments in French philosophical anthropology, this research angle thus asks for the ontologically unique mode of being-in-the-world which characterises particular palaeolithic societies and thereby recasts palaeolithic archaeology as an “ontological archaeology”. I investigate these issues by focusing on human-animal, human-object, and human-landscape relations in various contexts of the European palaeolithic.

Evolution and palaeohistory of animal-human interfaces
Humans depend and rely on animals in various albeit often crucial ways. But humanity’s entanglement with the animal world is much older than the introduction of livestock and pets. What shape did these relations take in the course of early human evolution when people were largely hunter-fisher-gatherer nomads? Departing from theoretical and methodological reorientations after the “animal turn”, “post-humanism”, and “speculative realism”, this research angle aims to investigate the qualities and consequences of living with wild animals in the vast landscapes of Pleistocene Europe. It considers the particular “agentivity” of animals in these landscapes and examines the relation between animal spatiality and history, the conditions of animal-human interactions and the treatment and conceptualisation of animals in human societies. My main areas of interest are currently the Swabian Aurignacian as well as human-mammoth interactions and human-bird relations in the wider European Upper Palaeolithic.

Ecocultural palaeospaces
Space is one of the most fundamental vectors of human existence, past or present. Traditionally, however, spatial archaeologies have tended to separate biophysical and social spaces from one another and to regard one of the two as primordial. Although there is little doubt that biophysical and social dimensions of space are somehow related, most scholars embrace reductionist agendas when dealing with the topic. This research angle attempts to overcome this situation and highlights the importance of taking the idea of ecocultural spaces seriously. The underlying assumption is that biophysical spatialities and social spatialities inter-constrain and inter-determine each other but that the relation between the two is historically contingent. Almost three decades after the “spatial turn”, a new paradigm is thus tangible which rests upon the recognition of an often symmetrical biophysical and social co-constitution of human spaces. I am currently working on the role of rivers, caves and animals as spatial agents to refine our understanding of ecocultural space construction in early human evolution. In focus is also the formation of Europe’s earliest cultural landscapes and how we understand this critical “datum” in hominisation.

Corporeal and sociocognitve perspectives on early human evolution
After the advent of “cognitive archaeology” in the 1980s and the subsequent obsession of scholars to tackle some of archaeologies longstanding questions from a cognitivist point of view, recent theoretical developments point to the possibility of integrating corporeal and cognitive perspectives on the human past in a holistic fashion. Key concepts such as “empathy”, “extended mind”, and “embodiment” and their current elaboration have shown that behavioural and/or cognitivist positions are unable to account for the full range of cognitive and corporeal dimensions of past humans and/or hominins. Mind and body are increasingly seen as inherently interrelated, so that different modes of bodily being-in-the-world also have major implications for how people are cognitively in the world. In the past, I have worked on an evolutionary anthropology of empathy in early hominisation and on embodiment perspectives on interpreting the archaeological record of the palaeolithic. Currently, I work on ways to better understand how the biophysical bodies of our ancestors have enabled or constrained their mindedness and the ways they have conceptualised the world and interacted with it.

Human and hominin exceptionality
Each species and each sociocultural context is unique but this uniqueness is rarely elaborated on in palaeoarchaeological studies. While the predominant view is that anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens, reached a state of “cultural” and/or “behavioural modernity” during the Late Pleistocene, scholars have done little to sharpen the exceptionality of Neanderthals or other archaic humans/hominins. I do agree that the focus on human exceptionality (especially on Homo sapiens exceptionality) has clouded our view of the remarkable qualities of other hominins and their contribution to the human legacy, but this by no means lends support to abandon the concept of exceptionality altogether. On the contrary, only by emphasising and exploring the uniqueness of each biological and sociocultural context from which particular archaeological materials originate will it be possible to better understand the various lifeways that emerged and disappeared in the course of human evolution.