April Nowell

April Nowell
Position
Professor
Anthropology
Credentials

PhD U. of Pennsylvania

Contact

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.

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

Hominin Life Histories

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.

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.

Paleolithic Art

This third 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. 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), and looking at the relationship between figurative and non-figurative images in parietal art (with Ph.D. candidate Geneveive Von Petzinger). I am also looking at the communities of practice in which Upper Paleolithic imagery was created (with Dr. Kris Kovarovic, Durham University). Finally, with Dr. Melanie Chang (University of Victoria), I research the relationship between science and media and how our Paleolithic past is portrayed in popular culture.

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 Azarq Marshes Archaeological and Paleoecological Project

With my colleague, Dr. Carlos Cordova (Oklahoma State University), I research hominin and, in particular, Neandertal survivorship and extinction in the Levant.

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 Druze Marsh and in 2013, we expanded our project to include a study of the Shishan paleomarsh in the Azraq Wetlands Reserve in south Azraq because as a result of the marshes drying up, deeply stratified archaeological deposits  (12,000 BP- >200,000 BP) reaching back into the Pleistocene were exposed. 

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.

This project is funded by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant (2012-2015) and I 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.

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

In a forthcoming book chapter (please see below) and in several papers to be presented in upcoming 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

  • Forthcoming. Childhood, 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.
  • 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

  • 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)