I am a Paleolithic archaeologist whose research focuses on the origins of art, symbol use, and language and on the emergence of modern cognition and modern human behavior. These interests have led to three research paths. The first is the study of early examples of art. Specifically, I take a taphonomic approach to these early objects to see if they are indeed anthropogenic (human made) or the result of natural processes such as root marks, animal trampling and the like. In the context of this research I have worked with colleagues on objects such as the Berekhat Ram artifact, the so called Neandertal bone "flute" and putative Neandertal engravings from Molodova I in the Ukraine. Second, in recent years, I have become interested in the relationship between ecology, climate change, life history strategies and human evolution. Some recent research I have been involved in looks at life history variables in the Acheulian and their impact on the archaeological record of this time period. My co-authors and I focus on the relationships between population size, transmission of culture and rate of innovation. In a larger sense this research is also related to my interest in the "archaeology of children" and the question of finding the individual in the remote past of the Paleolithic. The third is a focus on Neandertal lifeways and capabilities and the reasons for their extinction in the Levant (a region that includes Jordan, Israel, Syria and Lebanon). My research in cognitive archaeology and my fieldwork in Jordan (described below) are outgrowths of this interest.
I direct an international team of researchers and students in the excavation and analysis of the Druze Marsh Paleolithic Project in North Azraq, Jordan. Europe and the Levant are the only two regions in the world that were occupied either simultaneously or alternately by both Neandertals and modern humans. While both regions are exciting places to work I have chosen to conduct my research in the Levant for two reasons. First, the possible overlap between Neandertals and humans may be at least five times longer here than in Europe. Second, situated as this region is between Africa and Eurasia the Levant has served a biogeographic corridor or crossroad for species (including hominins) moving between these continents for thousands of years. More about this project may be read here.
In order to contribute to the study of Neandertal extinction in the Levant approximately 50,000 years ago we are researching their settlement patterns in relation to local climatic variation, and changes in subsistence strategies and tool technologies among other variables. In other words, in order to understand why they died we are trying to understand how they lived in this region of the Levant.
Sites that form part of the Druze Marsh Paleolithic project are located on the Northeastern end of the former Druze Marsh in the Azraq basin in NE Jordan. The marsh dried out completely in the 1990's as a result of excessive water pumping but for the past millennia it was a marsh that expanded at times into a paleolake. Hominins were likely visiting this area because of the birds, waterfowl and other animals that were attracted to this water source –it was literally an oasis in the desert. The Druze Marsh site is stratified both horizontally and vertically as we have deposits that relate to marsh levels, lake levels and beaches/shorelines. Students working on this project are engaged in projects such as pollen analysis (to reconstruct the ancient environment as well as hominin diets) and geomorphological modeling of the paleoshorelines.
There is also an applied aspect to our project. Jordan is the fifth water poorest country in the world and is currently experiencing its worst water shortage in 50 years. Building on the work of Dr. Gary Rollefson and his colleagues, we are working with the managers of the Shaumari Nature Reserve and Azraq Wetland Reserve to document and understand the complex relationships that existed in the Pleistocene between animals, humans and water in this fragile oasis ecosystem.
This project is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
2012 - 2013 Courses
- Fall 2012 Term: Not teaching a course this term.
- Spring 2013 Term: ANTH 341: Paleolithic Archaeology; ANTH 551 / ANTH 651: Advance Seminar: Ecology + Evolution
- Study Leave: July 1, 2013 - June 30, 2014
- 2010. Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition. Edited by April Nowell and Iain Davidson. University Press of Colorado.
- 2001 - (editor) In the Mind's Eye: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. Ann Arbor, MI: International Monographs in Prehistory.
Articles and Chapters
- In press. Pokines, J. T., A. Nowell, M. S. Bisson, C. E. Cordova and C. J. H. Ames. The Functioning of a Natural Faunal Trap in an Arid Environment: Preliminary investigations of WZM-1, a limestone sinkhole site near Wadi Zarqa Ma'in, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Journal of Taphonomy.
- In Press. Geomorphological and soil stratigraphic patterns associated with the Middle Paleolithic on the Madaba Plateau, Jordan: The case of the Ma’in Site Complex. Carlos Cordova, April Nowell, Michael Bisson, Christopher Ames, Regina Kalchgruber, Bassam Ghaleb. Mitkufat Haeven: Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society.
- 2011. A Question of Style: Reconsidering the Stylistic Approach to Dating Paleolithic Parietal Art in France. Genevieve von Petzinger and April Nowell. Antiquity 85 (330). Available on-line in November IN: ANTIQUITY JOURNAL
- 2010-Working Memory and the Speed of Life. Current Anthropology 51(S1): S121-S133.
- 2010-Defining Dehavioral Modernity in the Context of Neandertal and Anatomically Modern Human Populations. Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 437-452.
- 2010- Growing up in the Middle Pleistocene: Life history Strategies and their relationship to Acheulian industries. In Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition. April Nowell and Mark White. Edited by April Nowell and Iain Davidson. University Press of Colorado.
- 2009 - (April Nowell and Melanie Chang) The Case Against Sexual Selection As An Explanation of Handaxe Morphology. PaleoAnthropology 2009: 77-88.
- 2008 - Is There a Place for Aesthetics in the Study of Pleistocene Visual Cultures? in Rock Art and Aesthetics III edited by Thomas Heyd and John Clegg. British Archaeological Report International Series 1818. Oxford: ArchaeoPress, pp. 89-92.
- 2007 - (Donald Henry and April Nowell) Time-Space Patterns Observed in Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Point Attributes from Ayn Abu Nukhayla. Journal of Eurasian Prehistory 5(1):3-19.
- 2007 - (Michael Bisson, April Nowell, Carlos Cordova, Regina Kalchgruber) Human Evolution at the Crossroads: An Archaeological Survey in NW Jordan. Near Eastern Archaeology 69 (2/3): 73-85.
- 2007 - (April Nowell and Francesco d'Errico) The Art of Taphonomy and the Taphonomy of Art. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14(1):1-26.
- 2007 - (Michael Bisson, April Nowell, Carlos Cordova and Regina Kalchgruber) Neandertals at the Crossroads in Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan. Edited by Thomas E. Levy, P. M. Michèle Daviau, Randall W. Younker and May Shaer. London: Equinox, pp. 179-186.
- 2006 - From a Paleolithic Art to Pleistocene Visual Cultures. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13(4):239-249.
- 2005 - (Carlos E. Cordova, Chris Foley, April Nowell, and Michael Bisson) Landforms, Sediments, Soil Development and Prehistoric Site Location in The Madaba-Dhiban Plateau, Jordan. Geoarchaeology 20(1): 29-56.
- 2003 - (Francesco d'Errico, Christopher Henshilwood, Graeme Lawson, Marian Vanhaeren, Anne-Marie Tillier, Marie Soressi, Françoise Bresson, Bruno Maureille, April Nowell, Joseba Lakarra, Lucinda Backwell; Michèle Julien.Archaeological) Evidence for the Emergence of Language, Art and Symbolism and Music: An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective. Journal of World Prehistory 17(1):1-70.
- 2003 - (April Nowell, Kyoungju Park, Dimitris Metaxes and Jinah Park) Deformation Modeling: A New Methodology for the Analysis of Handaxe Morphology and Variability, in Multiple Approaches to the Study of Bifacial Technologies. Edited by Marie Soressi and Harold L. Dibble. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum. Pp. 193-208.
- 2002 - (April Nowell and Philip G. Chase). Is a Cavebear Bone from Divje Babe I, Slovenia, a Neandertal Flute? in The Archaeology of Early Sound: Origin and Organization edited by Ellen Hickmann and Ricardo Eichmann. 2nd Symposium of the Study Group on Music Archaeology. Berlin: Orient-Archäologie 12: 69-81.
- 2001 - The Re-Emergence of Cognitive Archaeology, in In the Mind's Eye: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Evolution of Human Intelligence edited by April Nowell. Ann Arbor, MI: International Monographs in Prehistory. Pp. 20-32.
- 2000 - (Francesco d'Errico and April Nowell) Origins of Symboling in the Near East: a new look at the Berekhat Ram figurine. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10 (1): 123-167.