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Ciaran Brewster

Ciaran Brewster

Ciaran Brewster (PhD Candidate)

Craniometric analysis of Upper Palaeolithic populations in Europe

Supervisor: Prof. William O'Brien
Biological Anthropology and Bioarchaeology Research Group


The Upper Palaeolithic marks a turning point in European prehistory. It was a dynamic time of migrations, brought about in part by widely fluctuating climatic conditions. Genetic studies paint a picture of extensive gene flow during this period, corresponding to the arrival of modern humans in Europe, a possible migration around the time of the appearance of the Gravettian culture, the contraction into the Franco-Cantabrian refugium at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum and a later re-expansion.

It has been demonstrated that a very small amount of gene flow is sufficient to prevent major genetic differentiation.  It has been proposed that open social networks over vast areas of the European continent offered Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers an adaptive strategy that allowed them to maintain contact and biological continuity. Open social networks were further advanced as an explanation of the relative homogeneity of material culture across wide geographic regions of the continent during the Early Upper Palaeolithic. It is generally thought that there is a shift to more closed social networks towards the end of the Late Pleistocene as population density increased and human groups became more sedentary. 

For this study, digitised cranial landmarks will be analysed using geometric morphometric analysis to examine whether there is a shift towards greater regionalisation of cranial traits from the Early Upper Palaeolithic to the Late Mesolithic periods. Landmarks will registered by Generalized Procrustes Analysis and and analysed using multivariate statistics. It is hypothesised that Mesolithic  groups will show a greater degree of clustering and will conform more to an isolation-by-distance model than Upper Palaeolithic groups.

This study is funded by Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

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