April Nowell

April Nowell
Position
Professor and Graduate Adviser
Anthropology
Credentials

PhD U. of Pennsylvania

Contact
Office: COR B340

Graduate students adviser

For enquiries regarding our Graduate Program please contact our Graduate Secretary, Jindra Belanger.

For other graduate student related queries, please use my graduate advisor email:

Interests

I am a Paleolithic archaeologist whose research focuses on the origins of art, symbol use, and language, the evolution of modern human cognition and behavior and on Neandertal lifeways.

2016 SAA - Archaeology of the Night

Hear Dr. Nowell at the Fall 2015  TEDxVictoria: Paleo Porn | April Nowell | TEDxVictoria

These interests have led to four interrelated research paths: IN THE NEWS...

Hominin Life Histories and the Archaeology of Children

I research the relationship between ecology, climate change, life history strategies and hominin 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.

Paleolithic Art

This research pathway involves in a variety of projects that fall under the umbrella of Paleolithic art. First, I study taphonomic approaches to ascertaining the anthropogenic origin of early examples of “art.” In the context of this research, I have worked with colleagues on objects such as the Berekhat Ram artifact, the Neandertal bone "flute" and putative Neandertal engravings from Molodova I in the Ukraine.

Second, I research the role of personal adornment in the Paleolithic and Neolithic. This relates to my interest in the theoretical area of an “archaeology of the body.”

Third, I study gendered approaches to studying anthropomorphic figures in Paleolithic portable and parietal art. Here is a link to a paper by Dr. Melanie Chang (Portland State University) and I that Dr. Chang presented at the American Anthropological Meetings in Denver in November 2015 as part of the invited AAA executive session In Search of Paleolithic Women.  Our paper titled A Census of Paleolithic Women begins at 18:02. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=share&v=yxtwxMWOOxI&app=desktop 

Fourth, my graduate students and I work together to contribute to an understanding of the social context in which Upper Paleolithic art was created. This includes looking at how we might distinguish whether the images were for public or private viewing (this is the work of my former MA student Suzanne Villeneuve), sexing children’s handprints in Upper Paleolithic art (with my former MA student Amanda Cooke), looking at the relationship between figurative and non-figurative images in Upper Paleolithic parietal (cave wall) art (with Ph.D. candidate Genevieve Von Petzinger) and applying new techniques to document Indigenous rock in BC in a collaborative community-based research project (this is the work of my former M.A. student Aurora Skala).

Finally, with Dr. Melanie Chang, I research the relationship between science and media and how our Paleolithic past is portrayed in popular culture (please see current projects below).


Cognitive Archaeology

Building on research that I conducted for my dissertation which critically examined the perceived relationships between symmetry and standardization in stone tools and the evolution of hominin “intelligence”, I study the relationship between stone tools and the evolution of human cognition. For other examples of my research in this please see the current projects section below.

Neandertal Lifeways

I research Neandertal lifeways and capabilities and the reasons for their extinction in the Levant (a region that includes Jordan, Israel, Syria and Lebanon). My fieldwork in Jordan is described below.

Current projects

The Azraq Marshes Archaeological and Paleo-ecological Project

As director of the The Azraq Marshes Archaeological and Paleo-ecological Project (AMAPP) I and my colleagues, Dr. Carlos Cordova (Oklahoma State University), Dr. James Pokines (Boston University and Dr. Christopher Ames (University of Victoria), research hominin and, in particular, Homo erectus and Neandertal survivorship and extinction in the Levant in relation to shifting climatic conditions.

What today is a desert in Azraq, NW Jordan was once a thriving wetland, teeming with life, a true oasis. Azraq is the Arabic word for blue and people living in the town of North Azraq today remember fishing as children in the surrounding wetlands, known as the Druze Marsh.Due to excessive water pumping the marshes that existed for hundreds of thousands of years in Azraq have all but disappeared---all that remains is a small, artificially supported wetlands reserve south of the town.

In 2007-2009, we conducted excavations at the Druze Marsh and in 2013-2015, we expanded our project to include a study of the Shishan paleomarsh in the Azraq Wetlands Reserve in south Azraq where we have uncovered  deeply stratified archaeological deposits  (12,000 BP- >270,000 years before present).  These deposits reveal not only tools, hearths, animal bones and butchering sites left by hominin species but also well preserved sediments demonstrating the changing hydrology and climate of the region. This stratigraphy allows our international team of students and scholars to study, over time and space, the changing dynamics of hominin settlement patterns, their use of resources and their responses to fluctuating climates and water availability.   Specifically, we want to know if, when and in what ways the Druze and Shishan Marshes served as refugia for ancient hominins and what this can tell us about the long-term adaptability of our species.

Two UVic graduate students are currently working on this project, Ph.D. candidate Jeremy Beller and M.A. candidate John Murray.

Our recent research on the oldest identifiable protein residue on stone tools is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science:

April Nowell, Cameron Walker, Carlos E. Cordova, Christopher J. H. Ames, James T. Pokines and Amer S. A. al-Asuliman. 2016. Middle Pleistocene subsistence in the Azraq Oasis, Jordan: Protein residue and other proxies.    Journal of archaeological Science 73: 36-44.

This project is funded by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant (2012-2016) and we thank the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (Jordan) and the American Center for Oriental Research (Amman) for facilitating our research. 


More information about our project can be found at: www.amaap.org.

Finger Fluting in Upper Paleolithic Caves

My colleague, Dr. Leslie Van Gelder, and I are embarking on an ambitious project to document finger flutings throughout France and Spain.  Dating back to the Ice Age, finger flutings are quite literally the remnants of human touch.  Specifically, they are lines that were drawn with fingers on soft surfaces in limestone caves during the Upper Paleolithic, 10,000-40,000 years ago, in Western Europe and Australia. In France and Spain, they have been found in fifty-two caves and, because they are made with people's hands, they contain a wealth of forensic evidence about age, sex, height, handedness and idiosyncratic art-making choices among unique individuals.  Because finger flutings let us focus in on the actions and choices of an individual, our research give us a unique opportunity to look more closely at who entered the caves, who engaged in mark-making, as well as where and how people engaged with each other. It will also generate insights into regional symbolism, craft production and apprenticeship, embodied cognition, the role of men, women and children in the creation of cave art, knowledge production and consumption, and the interrelationship between figurative and non-figurative art, as well as giving new insights into the use of caves by Upper Paleolithic peoples. 

This research is sponsored by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant (2016-2018): Disentangling Identity: A Study of Upper Paleolithic Finger Flutings in Franco-Cantabrian Europe.


Science, the Media and Human Evolution

With Dr. Melanie Chang (Portland State University) (watch Dr. Chang’s TEDx here[AN1] ), I research the relationship between science and media and how our Paleolithic past is portrayed in popular culture.  We have looked at the use of the term “pornographic” to describe Upper Paleolithic figures (watch my TEDx called Paleo Porn[AN2] ) as well as other topics including the “Paleo” Diet.  You can also check out this blog Follow the blog: NPR: Looking Beyond Notions of Erotica In Prehistoric Art


Archaeology of Night

My colleague, Dr. Nancy Gonlin (Bellevue College) and I organized two sessions on the Archaeology of Night—one at the American Anthropological Association Meetings in November 2015 and one at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in April 2016.  In total, we brought together close to 20 scholars to discuss nighttime behaviors in the ancient world because, as my colleague Dr. Minette Church (University of Colorado), observed ancient peoples lived as many nights as they lived days but as archaeologists we have tended to focus on daytime doings.  An edited volume based on these sessions and titled Archaeology of the Night will be available in November 2017.  For more information please read the summary of our book (below) or check out these blogs http://www.upcolorado.com/about-us/blog/item/2951-archaeology-of-the-night and   http://habitsofatravellingarchaeologist.com/the-archaeology-of-the-night-whats-that-about/

Summary of Archaeology of Night: “As twilight settled in the ancient world, a host of activities ensued, some of which were significantly different from what people did during the daytime.  Some artifacts, features, and buildings associated with these activities were particular to the dark, while other material culture was transformed in meaning as the sun set.  Night offers refuge from the heat and demands of the day but can also bring with it nightmares, night raids, and other dark doings. Sleep, sex, socializing, stargazing, storytelling, ceremony, work and play—so much of our economic, social and ritual lives, take place at night and yet relatively little archaeological research has been undertaken explicitly on nightly quotidian practices.  Does darkness obscure these activities for the archaeologist or is it that we need to learn to employ night vision? The topic of the night is vastly understudied and under-theorized in archaeology: this volume examines the archaeology, anthropology, mythology, iconography, and epigraphy of nocturnal doings and in the process will challenge our reconstructions of ancient life.  A wide variety of methods and resources will be used to develop a reconstruction of how ancient peoples experienced the night, their views of the dark, their portrayals of the night, and how people in everyday life, from farmers to rulers, adapted to the night and its associated practices. This subject is best approached through a holistic, comparative framework that incorporates archaeology, iconography, epigraphy, cultural astronomy, ethnohistory, history, and ethnography. Various theoretical approaches, such as practice theory, and the framework of human adaptation prove insightful in addressing the multiple approaches to studying the night. Topics include the liminal periods of dusk and dawn, archaeological evidence for the diversity of practices relating to sleep, the practical and psychological effects of artificial light and illumination of the dark, cultural astronomy, rituals that are specific to the night, ideology of the night, sensory scapes, and nocturnal economic activities and the origins of the ‘night shift.’  Contributors to this volume explore the concept of the nighttime within a comparative anthropological framework in order to provide the broadest possible interpretation of individual case studies drawn from a wide range of ancient and historical cultures from diverse areas of the globe.”

 

Children, Communities of Practice and Upper Paleolithic Visual Cultures

In a series of publications (please see selected publications below) and conference presentations I have been exploring the lived lives of Upper Paleolithic children growing up in France and Spain. How had children as social actors living within Ice Age communities of practice learn to decode and reproduce the images in circulation around them and how did they learn to think though images? In this regard, I am interested in the biological, cognitive and social underpinnings of the uniquely human ability to move between two and three dimensional worlds and to perceive a fourth dimension—time—through the perception of motion from still images as well as to employ metaphorical thinking in the interpretation and creation of imagery. These abilities, which can be traced through the archaeological record, allowed children and the adults they became new ways of imagining and acting in the world.

Growing Up in the Pleistocene: Neandertal Children and the Evolution of Play Behavior

In a recent book chapter (please see below) and in several papers presented at workshops and conferences I have been exploring the evolution of play behavior and what it can tell us about the ways in which our ancestors may have learned and transmitted culture. 

The life history pattern of modern humans is characterized by the insertion of childhood and adolescent stages into the typical primate pattern. It is widely recognized that this slowing of the maturational process provides humans with additional years to learn, transmit, practice and modify cultural behaviors.  In both human and non-human primates a significant amount of their respective dependency periods are spent in play. In contrast to modern humans, the fossil evidence seems to suggest that Neandertals experienced shorter childhoods.  

If correct, this is an important difference because there is a great deal of psychological and neurobiological evidence that demonstrates that it is during infancy, childhood and adolescence that milestones in social and cognitive learning are reached and that play and play deprivation have a direct impact on this development. 

Faster maturation rates and thus shorter childhoods relative to modern humans lessen the impact of learning through play on the connectivity of the Neandertal brain and this may explain some of the differences archaeologists see in the material culture of Neandertals and modern humans.

Selected publications

Books

  • 2010.  Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition.  Edited by April Nowell and Iain Davidson. University Press of Colorado.

Book chapters

  • 2016.  Play and the Evolution of Cultural Capacity in Neandertals in The Nature of Culture, edited by Miriam Haidle, Nicolas Conard and Michael Bolus.  Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology series.  Springer.  Pp. 87-97.
  • 2013.  Chapter 11: Technotypology of Chipped Stone Artifacts.  Donald Henry, April Nowell, Keith Mendez, Heather Rockwell, Elizabeth Peterson, and Mathew Senn in Sands of Time: The Early Neolithic Desert Community of Ayn Abu Nukhayla edited by Donald Henry. Bibliotheca neolithica Asiae meridionalis et occidentalis series (Library of Neolithic Excavations in Southwest Asia). Berlin: Ex Oriente.
  • 2013.  Chapter 12: Attribute Studies of Points, Perforators, Knives and Lithic Caches from Ayn Abū Nukhayla. April Nowell, Jennifer Gutzeit and Donald O. Henry in Sands of Time: The Early Neolithic Desert Community of Ayn Abu Nukhayla edited by Donald Henry. Bibliotheca neolithica Asiae meridionalis et occidentalis series (Library of Neolithic Excavations in Southwest Asia). Berlin: Ex Oriente.
  • 2013.  Chapter 16: The Beads and Pendants of Ayn Abu Nukhayla. Ashton Spatz, Daniella Bar-Yosef, April Nowell and Donald O. Henry. In Sands of Time: The Early Neolithic Desert Community of Ayn Abu Nukhayla edited by Donald O. Henry. Bibliotheca neolithica Asiae meridionalis et occidentalis series (Library of Neolithic Excavations in Southwest Asia).  Berlin: Ex Oriente.
  • 2013. Cognition, Behavioral Modernity and the Archaeological Record of the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic, in The Evolution of Mind, Brain, and Culture, ed. by Gary Hatfield and Holly Pittman.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Press, pp. 236-262.
  • 2010. Introduction and Overview.  In Stone Tools and the Evolution of Cognition.  Iain Davidson and April Nowell. Edited by April Nowell and Iain Davidson. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, pp. 1-11.
  • 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. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, pp. 67-82.
  • 2010b - Working Memory and the Speed of Life. Current Anthropology 51(S1): S121-S133.
  • 2009 - The Case against Sexual Selection as an Ex;oanationof Handaxe Morphology. April Nowell and Melanie Lee Chang. Paleoanthropology 77-88. DOI:10.1126/science.323.5918.1151a

Journal articles

  • 2016. Melanie L. Chang and April Nowell. How to Make Stone Soup: Is the Paleo Diet a Missed Opportunity for Anthropologists? Evolutionary Anthropology 25 (5):228-231.
  • 2016. Middle Pleistocene subsistence in the Azraq Oasis, Jordan: Protein residue and other proxies.  April Nowell, Cameron Walker, Carlos E. Cordova, Christopher J. H. Ames, James T. Pokines and Amer S. A. al-Asuliman.  Journal of archaeological Science 73: 36-44.
  • 2015. Learning to See and Seeing to Learn: Children, Communities of Practice and Pleistocene Visual Cultures. Cambridge Archaeology Journal 25(4): 889-899.
  • 2015. The Nature of Culture – An integrated model of the expansion of cultural  capacities Miriam Noel Haidle, Michael Bolus, Mark Collard, Nicholas J. Conard, Iain Davidson, Duilio Garofoli,  Marlize Lombard, April Nowell, Claudio Tennie, and Andrew Whiten.  Journal of Anthropological Sciences 90: 43-70.
  • 2015. Children, Metaphorical Thinking and Upper Paleolithic Visual Cultures.  Childhood in the Past 8(2): 122-132.

  • 2014 - Science, the Media, and Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic Figurines. April Nowell and Melanie Chang. American Anthropologist 16(3):562-577.
  • 2014 - Non-Figurative Signs and the Antiquity of Chauvet Cave. Genevieve Von Petzinger and April Nowell. Journal of Human Evolution 74:37-54.
  • 2014 - Paleolithic Personal Ornaments: An Intellectual History.  Oscar Moro and April Nowell. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (currently available as On-Line First).
  • 2014 - The Druze Marsh Paleolandscape: A Geoarchaeological Approach to Open-Air Paleolithic Sites. Chris Ames, April Nowell, Carlos Cordova, James Pokines and Michael Bisson.Special Issue: Open-Air Middle Paleolithic sites.  Quaternary International 331:60-73.
  • 2013 - Middle Pleistocene Life Histories, Metapopulation Ecology and Innovation in the Acheulian.  Terry Hopkinson, April Nowell and Mark White.  Journal of the Paleoanthropology Society 2013:61-76.
  • 2013 - The Druze Marsh Paleolandscape: A Geoarchaeological Approach to Open-Air Paleolithic Sites. Chris Ames, April Nowell, Carlos Cordova, James Pokines and Michael Bisson.Special Issue on Open-Air Middle Paleolithic sites.  Quaternary International.
  • 2013 - Michael. S. Bisson, April Nowell, Carlos Cordova, Melanie Poupart, and Christopher Ames.  Dissecting Palimpsests in a Late Lower and Middle Paleolithic Flint Acquisition Site on the Madaba Plateau, Jordan.  Quaternary International
  • 2013 - Carlos Cordova, April Nowell, Michael Bisson, Christopher Ames, James Pokines, Melanie Chang and Maysoon al-Nahar.  Glacial and Interglacial Desert Refugia and the Middle Paleolithic of the Azraq Basin, Jordan. Special Issue: The Middle Paleolithic in the DesertQuaternary International 300:194-210
  • 2012 - 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 41:1-32.
  • 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): 1165-1183.
  • 2011 - 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 9(2): 89-115.
  • 2010 - Defining Behavioral Modernity in the Context of Neandertal and Anatomically Modern Human Populations.  Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 437-452.
  • 2010 - Working Memory and the Speed of Life. Current Anthropology 51(S1): S121-S133. 2009.
  • 2009 - The Case against Sexual Selection as an Explanation of Handaxe Morphology. April Nowell and Melanie Lee Chang. PaleoAnthropology 77-88. (reviewed in “Random Samples” in the journal Science DOI: 10.1126/science.323.5918.1151a)