Our Way To Europe - Introduction

Article Index

Research profile of the Collaborative Research Centre  806 (Phase3)

3rd Funding Period 2017-2021

The cultural-environmental context of the spread of anatomically modern humans (AMH) from their cradle in Africa to one of their “sinks” (Central Europe) is the focus of the CRC 806 (SFB 806) “Our Way to Europe”, since its start in 2009. With archaeological and geoscientific methods the projects of the Regional Group (former Cluster A to D) follow the main migration routes of our ancestors out of Africa and into Europe in order to reconstruct past climates, cultures, population changes and living conditions to understand the push and pull factors of the dispersal and retreat of our ancestors. Similar to the first two phases of the CRC 806 (the last seven years) the complete timeframe (MIS 6 to MIS 1) to be studied in our project differs by region: In East-Africa it started about 190,000 years ago (during MIS 6) with the first appearance of AMH in Ethiopia. Their dispersal into in the Middle East (and to other African regions) followed – based on results from different research fields outside the CRC 806 - during MIS 5 to MIS 3 in several “waves”, which did not all end successfully: i.e with the long-lasting dominance of our ancestors in these new regions. Especially in the Middle East they might be first have been hampered by the Neanderthals, but came back during MIS 4 to MIS 3 when they managed to move forward into SE-Europe. On our Western corridor MIS 5 to MIS 2 are relevant time frames while in Central Europe the spread of AMH happened during MIS 3/4 until MIS 1.

What were the main triggers supporting or preventing this mobility? So far we have indications that it was a set of reasons working together that certainly differed in time and space: climate, environment and cultural contexts as well as population densities. It is discussed (Stringer 2011: 221) that population increase is one of the critical factors in building up and conserving behavioural novelties in ancient human communities. These new behavioural strategies should have also pushed people forward to be best adapted for new challenges in new regions. First results from our long core sedimentological records from the site of Chew Bahir (S-Ethiopia) point exactly in this direction: After a generally wetter but frequently changing climate during the end of MIS 5 the climate changed to dryer and generally more stable (= less frequent changes) conditions during MIS 4 and early MIS 3, when the people successfully left East Africa according to recent knowledge based on the L3 mtDNA genetic results. This coincidence is worth studying in more details and should be checked by different models as one focus during the proposed third funding period of our CRC 806.

This is only one example of how the “old” main research questions (Number 19) already presented in our first proposal became focussed during the second phase and will guide us during the last. Meanwhile, after very effective data gathering in the last 7 years, we will step by step concentrate more on the integration and modelling of data gained from different methods. This for us is the only way to interpret and prove the different hypotheses of push and pull factors behind human dispersal. And who else would have better circumstances to  do so ? The CRC 806 is the only research project covering such a vast area (Fig. 1) from Africa up to Central Europe over such a long-time frame and created recently so many local data with different methods in order to understand the complex pattern of human dispersal.



Phase3 Fig1 Uebersicht

Fig. 1




Phase3 SFB Schema NEU 11

Fig. 2: New project structure of the CRC 806, grouped into 4 groups of projects plus the public relation project (Exhibition). Regional Model projects (A1, B1, B3, C1, D1 & D4) are indicated in blue, Supraregional Systems projects (E1, E3, E6, E7, E8, E9) appear in green, the Timelines projects (F2, F5 & F6) in red, and the Central Tasks projects (Z1, Z2, Z3, Z4) in orange. The new structure will include 19 projects, plus the Public Relations project (Exhibition - Ö2) (yellow outer circle).


The circular form symbolises the integrative attempt of the 3rd CRC 806 phase based on the former Regional Clusters, which are now reduced in numbers and centred as the new Regional Models Group (subprojects A1, B1, B3, C1, D1 and D4). In the Regional Group subprojects (former shown in Regional Clusters A to D) we will concentrate on the remaining very important sites and their final data analysis and interpretation.

The Regional Models group subprojects will be supported by data and results originating from the Timelines Group (containing subprojects F2, F5 and F6), which unite the different dating methods. All mentioned subprojects will closely interact and cooperate with the new Supraregional System Group subprojects in which modelling based on different methods is the main focus for E1, E3, E6, while the three new subprojects will deliver new insights about the black carbon remains in most of the analysed sites (E7 = former D6), the faunal assemblages based on a reconstruction of the regional biomes for MIS 3 (E8) and the general relation between humans and things on a philosophical basis (E9). The Z-Group unifies the management of administration (Z1), the data management (Z2), the education for the graduate students (= Integrated Research Training Group IRTG: Z3) and the school project (Z4). Last but not least with an extraordinary importance the (already granted) Exhibition Subproject will be our main outreach and transmission activity to connect our results to a broader audience.


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RWTH Aachen University

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