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Research Projects of the University of Cologne‘s Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Collaborative Research Centre 806 “Our way to Europe“

Culture-Enviroment Interaction and Human Mobility in the Late Quaternary

Spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Richter | Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology (University of Cologne), Prof. Dr. Frank Schäbitz | Didactics of Geography (University of Cologne), Prof. Dr. Thomas Litt | Mineralogy and Palaeontology (University of Bonn)

Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

he occurrence of Modern Humans in Africa, 300,000 years ago, and their dispersal into Europe has been the research focus of CRC 806 (a Collaborative Research Centre of the DFG) since 2009. Corings into freshwater lake sediments and archaeological surveys in Ethiopia shed light on the cultural and environmental context of the time range from which our direct ancestors originated. Recently, a CRC 806 team discovered stone artefacts from the same time range, on top of a volcano, at 3000 m a.s.l. in the Ethiopian highlands - the highest place in the world where a hand axe has been found. The most prominent wave of human migration reaches as far back as 70,000 years ago, and another CRC team is currently investigating this epoch together with the Universities of Heidelberg and Leuven at the natural bridge between Africa and Eurasia: the Sodmein cave located in Egypt´s Eastern desert. Our findings indicate favorable environmental conditions rich in vegetation for this time range. Not later than 43,000 years ago, modern humans dispersed into Western Eurasia, and inhabited the area from the Jordan valley to the River Thames valley. The Neanderthals had disappeared by this time - mysteriously soon after having achieved their population maximum. The Middle East climate of that time indicate stabile conditions as our lake drillings at the Dead Sea and Lake Kinnereth show - in contrast to the European record. Here, we note repeated and rapid changes from cool to very cold climatic conditions. The underlying data for this thesis comes from our corings at lakes Prespa and Ohrid (Macedonia/Albania) and from the only crater lake in Romania at S. Ana. Geoscientific research undertaken within the framework the CRC 806 is always accompanied by archaeological excavation in order to collect data on technology, settlement patterns and mobility systems of the hunter-gatherer populations of the time.
In contrast to the Eastern European record, the western part of the area under investigation revealed a settlement hiatus between the demise of the Neanderthals and the first appearance of modern humans on the Iberian Peninsula. This also occurred during the coldest part of the last ice age, 23,000 – 18,000 BP, when large parts of Europe were completely void of human occupation and only were not inhabited again until much later. Such patterns of human mobility occurred until the time of so-called sedentary societies and became decisive for the when and where of the occurrence of agriculture, domestic stock and other stone-age innovations. Reconstruction and model building of such phenomena forms one main focus of the CRC 806 involving Geographic Informational Systems (GIS). A wide range of disciplines are collaborating within the framework of the CRC 806, and working groups from Prehistoric Archaeology, Ethnology and Philosophy of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities are involved in the CRC. It is also linked to the QSGA (Centre of Quaternary Science and Geoarcheology) which in 2017/2018 hosted Professor Maysoon Al-Nahar Ph.D. from the University of Jordan as the first QSGA visiting professor to our university

Text: Jürgen Richter


Collaborative Research Centre 806
Prod. Dr. Jürgen Richter