April Nowell

April Nowell

On leave

Office: COR B340

PhD U. of Pennsylvania

Area of expertise

Neanderthal, Paleolithic art and archaeology, Hominin life histories, Cognitive archaeology, Archaeology of children, Levant and Europe

Accepting MA/PhD students.  Priority area of study: MA research on contemporary and early Holocene use of ostrich eggshell beads.

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, Neandertal lifeways, the archaeology of children and the history of archaeological theory.

Link to CV


Spring 2023


Current projects

Ice Age Children

My new book Growing Up in the Ice Age: Fossil and Archaeological Evidence of the Lived Lives of Plio-Pleistocene Children is the culmination of the last 15 years of research into the lives of Ice Age children.

Paleolithic Art

My colleague, Dr. Leslie Van Gelder (watch Dr. Van Gelder's TEDx talk), study finger flutings.  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. 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. 

Azraq Marshes Project (Jordan) - The world's oldest identifiable blood on stool tools

I lead an international team of researchers in the study of hominins in NE Jordan.  Our research question is a simple one—how could Homo erectus survive in an environment that would be challenging even for modern humans today?  In 2016, we published the world’s oldest identifiable blood on stone tools (with new results to be published next year).  We demonstrated that Homo erectus ate everything from ducks to rhinos and in order to do so they had to use a complex tool kit, follow very flexible hunting strategies (after all hunting ducks is very different from  hunting/scavenging rhinos and Asian elephants), and organize themselves into smaller task specific groups, all while avoiding predators.  Our research demonstrated that Homo erectus was more sophisticated technologically,  socially and cognitively than anyone thought before.  Our research is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Leakey Foundation.

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.

Science, Pop Culture and the Media

With Dr. Melanie Chang (Portland State University) (watch Dr. Chang’s TEDx talk), I research the relationship between science and the 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 figurines (watch my TEDx here) as well as other topics including the "Paleo" Diet. 

Selected publications


  • 2021. Nowell, April. Growing Up in the Ice Age: Fossil and Archaeological Evidence of the Lived lives of Plio-Pleistocene Children. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • 2021. Davidson, Iain and Nowell, April (eds.).  Making Scenes: Global Perspective on Scenes in Rock Art.  New York: Berghahn Books.
  • 2018. Gonlin, Nancy and Nowell, April (eds.). Archaeology of the Night.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.

Book chapters

  • 2022. Kubicka, Anna Maria, Wragg-Sykes, Rebecca, Nowell, April, and Nelson, Emma. Neanderthal Sexual Behaviour. In The Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Sexual Psychology, Volume 4, edited by Todd K. Shackelford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • 2021. Nowell, April, Kurki, Helen and Mitchell, Lisa M. Conceiving reproduction in archaeology. In Routledge Handbook on Anthropology and Reproduction, edited by Sallie Han and Cecelia Tomori. London: Routledge, pp. 68-84.
  • 2021. Davidson, Iain and Nowell, April. Introduction. Behind the scenes—did scenes in rock art create new ways of seeing the world? In I. Davidson & A. Nowell (Eds.), Making scenes: global perspectives on scenes in rock art. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 1-16.
  • 2021. Van Gelder, Leslie and Nowell, April. Scene makers: Finger fluters in Upper Paleolithic caves. In Making Scenes: Scenes in Global Rock Art, edited by Iain Davidson and April Nowell. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 194-206.
  • 2021. Davidson, Iain and Nowell, April. Epilogue. Is there more to scenes than meets the eye? In Making Scenes: Global Perspectives on Scenes in Rock Art edited by I. Davidson and A. Nowell. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 327-331.
  • 2021. Nowell, April and Cooke, Amanda. Culturing the body: adornment and ornamentation. In Oxford Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution, edited by Andrew Lock, Chris Sinha and Nathalie Gontier. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-32. 
  • 2020. Nowell, April and Gonlin, Nancy. Affordances of the night: Work after dark in the ancient world. In Rethinking Darkness: Histories, Cultures and Practices, edited by Timothy Edensor and Nick Dunn. New York: Routledge, pp. 27-37.
  • 2020. Nowell, April and Kurki, Helen. Moving beyond the obstetrical dilemma hypothesis: Birth, weaning and infant care in the Plio-Pleistocene. In The Mother-Infant Nexus in Anthropology: Small beginnings, significant outcomes, edited by Siân Halcrow and Rebecca Gowland. New York: Springer, pp. 173-190.
  • 2020. Chang, Melanie L. and Nowell, April. Conceiving of them, when before there was only us. In Archaeologies of the Heart, edited by Kisha Supernant, Natasha Lyons, Jane Baxter, and Sonya Atalay. New York: Springer, pp. 205-223.

Journal articles

  • 2022. Nowell, April. Oral storytelling and knowledge transmission in Upper Paleolithic children and adolescents. Special Issue: Skill development and knowledge transmission. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 29(4).
  • 2022. French, Jennifer and Nowell, April. Growing up Gravettian: Bioarchaeological perspectives on adolescence in the European Mid-Upper Paleolithic. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2022.101430
  • 2022. Pokines, James T., Beller, Jeremy A., al-Souliman, Amer S. A., Samawi, Owani, Ames, Christopher J. H., Cordova, Carlos E., and Nowell, April. Radiometric dating of Wadi Zarqa Ma’in 1, a limestone sinkhole natural faunal trap near the Dead Sea, using data from test pitting and a portable coring system. Near Eastern Archaeology 85(3): 192-199.
  • 2021. Ames, Christopher J. H., Cordova, Carlos E., Pokines, James T., Boyd, Kelsey, Schmidt, Christoph, Degering, Derlev, Kalbe, Johannes, Jones, Brian G., Dosseto, Anthony, Alsouliman, Amer, Beller, Jeremy, and Nowell, April. Mid to Late Quaternary Palaeolandscapes of the central Azraq basin, Jordan: deciphering discontinuous records of human-environment dynamics at the arid margin of the Levant. Special Issue: Geoarchaeology between Mediterranean areas and arid margins. Quaternary International. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.10.007
  • 2021. Riede, Felix, Walsh, Matthew J., Nowell, April, Langley, Michelle and Johannsen, Niels N. Constructing the niches of and for innovation. Play objects and object play from a niche construction perspective. Evolutionary Human Sciences 2. https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2021.7
  • 2020. Halcrow, Siân, Warren, Ruth, Kushnick, Geoff and Nowell, April. Care of infants in the past: Bridging paleoanthropological and bioarchaeological approaches. Evolutionary Human Sciences 2 E47. 
  • 2020. Nowell, April, Langley, Michelle C., and Riede, Felix. 2020. Children and innovation: A Wenner‐Gren workshop. Evolutionary Anthropology 29(1): 6-8 doi.org/10.1002/evan.21816
  • 2020. Collins, Benjamin R., Wojcieszak, Marine, Nowell, April, Hodgskiss, Tammy, and Ames, Christopher J. H. Beads and bead residues as windows to past behaviours and taphonomy: A case study from Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 12 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01164-5
  • 2020. Nowell, April and French, Jennifer. Adolescence and Innovation in the European Upper Palaeolithic. Evolutionary Human Sciences 2 (e36): 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2020.37
  • 2020. Nowell, April. Reconsidering the personhood of infants in the Gravettian. Journal of Anthropological Research 76(2): 232-250. 
  • 2020. Nowell, April and Van Gelder, Leslie. Disentangled: The Role of Finger Flutings in the Study of the Lived Lives of Upper Paleolithic Peoples. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 27(3):585-606. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-020-09468-5
  • 2020. Beller, Jeremy, Ames, Christopher J. H. Ames and Nowell, April. Exploring Middle-Late Pleistocene lithic procurement strategies in the Azraq Basin: Preliminary results from Shishan Marsh 1, Jordan. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 29: 102091.
  • 2020. Craig, Caitlin, Collins, Benjamin R., Nowell, April and Ames, Christopher J. H. The effects of heating ostrich eggshell: An experimental approach. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 31: 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102287