Neanderthals and Modern Humans in Ice Age Europe


The transition from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic spans several thousand years between roughly 50,000 and 40,000 years ago. It’s a time when our species, Homo sapiens or modern humans, dispersed and replaced Neanderthals in many regions, including Europe. Until recently, it was also seen as the time when fully modern cognition emerged. Did modern humans really represent a smarter kind of human that simply outwitted the Neanderthals to extinction? 

Neanderthals survived in Europe for more than 300,000 years. They were an adaptable people who experienced several periods of ice age climate. This course begins by considering how Neanderthals lived, the nature of their society, their technological skills, and their cognitive abilities. We’ll then examine the transitional period when modern humans, with their Upper Palaeolithic material culture, began to arrive and settle in Europe while Neanderthals, mainly associated with Middle Palaeolithic toolkits, eventually declined and died out. New discoveries made in both the field and the laboratory continue to shed light on what is a complex, yet fascinating, period of early prehistory.

Programme details

Courses starts: 20 Sep 2021

Week 0: An Introducton to Teams

Week 1:  Ancestors

Week 2:  Neanderthal adaptations in ice age Europe

Week 3:  Innovative Neanderthals: expert stone, bone, and woodworking toolmakers

Week 4:  Life in Middle Palaeolithic Europe

Week 5:  How smart were Neanderthals?

Week 6:  The origins of the Upper Palaeolithic

Week 7:  The earliest modern humans in Europe

Week 8:  To what extent did Neanderthals and modern humans co-exist and interact?

Week 9:  Explaining Neanderthal extinction

Week 10:  The Early Upper Palaeolithic of Europe after the last Neanderthals


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £229.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Diane Holmes

Diane Holmes has been teaching courses on human evolution and Palaeolithic archaeology for the OUDCE for many years.  Her main interests are Palaeolithic technology and early African prehistory. She has also participated in excavations at early Upper Palaeolithic sites in France and Belgium. 

Course aims

The course offers an introduction to a complex period of European prehistory, the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition when modern humans arrived and Neanderthals became extinct.

Course Objectives:

  1. To explore Neanderthal behaviour and cognition, and to consider possible factors that may have played a role in their extinction. 
  2. To introduce students to the key issues and debates in the study of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Europe. 
  3. To show how various sources of evidence (archaeological, fossil, genetic, palaeoenvironmental, etc.) are used to understand Neanderthal behaviour and the complexities of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition.

Teaching methods

This online course will consist of a 1-hour pre-recorded lecture released in advance of each live session. The pre-recorded lectures will be complemented by a 1-hour live, structured discussion session.

Each week students will be asked to look at online resources concerning a particular topic that will then be discussed in the live sessions. They will also have the opportunity to ask questions more generally about each week’s lecture.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  1. Develop a good introductory knowledge and understanding of Neanderthals.
  2. Be aware of the key issues and areas of debate relevant to the study of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Europe.
  3. Have an appreciation of the various sources of evidence used to investigate the Palaeolithic of Europe, and some of the problems, limitations, and challenges of the evidence.

Assessment methods

Students will have the choice of preparing either several shorter pieces of coursework (total approx. 1500 words; Option A), or a single 1500-word assignment (Option B). The Option A coursework will be based on class discussion topics, while there will be a list of assignment questions to choose from for students who prefer to work on a single 1500-word assignment (Option B). Advice on producing coursework will be given by the tutor during the course.      

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


Each course will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

This is an introductory course suitable for anyone with an interest in early prehistory. No previous knowledge is assumed.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)