Institute for Field Research Prehistorical Archaeology Programs


These are exciting times to engage with prehistoric archaeology. New finds shed light on the origin of our own species, and novel research is providing fresh insights into the relationships with our closest relatives, the Neanderthals. Innovative work is allowing us to gain better understanding of the origins of agriculture and the shift to sedentary life.

Many of the IFR field schools directly engage with these topics. Our Lesotho-Sehonghong Rockshelter program explores the evolution of hunting & gathering technology over tens of thousands of years in one of Southern Africa most impressive and historically significant rock shelters. The South Africa- Spitzkloof field school investigates human/biota relationships in the past 60,000 years in the rugged and remote areas of the Richtersveld region of Namaqualand, a coastal desert in the northwest corner of the country. Work at the Montenegro-Vrbička Cave focuses on human evolution from the Late Paleolithic through the Mesolithic and to the Early Neolithic in the Balkans. Surprisingly, the site shows evidence of human occupation during the Upper Paleolithic, one of the coldest phases of the last Ice Age (the Last Glacial Maximum, around 22,000 years ago).
At the recent AIA annual conference, Michael Richards (Simon Fraser University) suggested that while Neanderthals were efficient top predators, they focused on terrestrial animals exclusively. The newly arrived Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH), on the other hand, added fish and other marine animals to their diet – a possible relative advantage that allowed AMH to push out Neanderthals from all available environmental niches. Is this the case?

Our Portugal-Vale Boi field school team addresses such questions as it studies the Upper Paleolithic and possible interaction between AMH and Neanderthals in the region. Preservation at Vale Boi is of remarkable quality with impressive faunal recovery and numerous lithic assemblages present. Vale Boi project members are examining adaptive strategies of both species. Our program at Spain-Cova Gran explores early human arrival to the Iberian Peninsula and AMH-Neanderthal interactions. The site covers more than 50,000 years of human occupation with upper layers dating to the early Neolithic period and the arrival of early farmers to the south Pyrenees.

Finally, IFR’s later prehistory offerings feature the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Our Turkey-Boncuklu  field school is focused on the transition from nomadic to sedentary lifestyle in Anatolia. Boncuklu is the earliest village in central Anatolia and the predecessor of the famous Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük. It is an ideal location to study this critical transformation to permanent human settlements, including its advantages and pitfalls. Finally, research at our Bulgaria-Tel Yunatsite and Bulgaria-Ilindentsi field schools is focused on the entry of early farmers from Anatolia to Europe and debates about agriculture’s arrival by technology diffusion or population movement.

Students are strongly encouraged to apply to any of our scholarships for which they may be eligible.


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