January 18, 2020 2020, 2:00 PM: Dr. John Hoffecker, University of Colorado Boulder

Landscape archeology and human dispersal on the East European Plain

The dominant landform on the continent of Europe is an immense plain that stretches from the eastern slope of the Carpathians to the Ural Mountains. Owing to its geographic isolation from the North Atlantic, the East European Plain is characterized by a continental climate and reduced biological productivity relative to western Europe, while its archaeological record exhibits some similarities to the High Plains of North America. For decades, archaeologists have struggled to piece together a record of Paleolithic settlement in a landscape largely devoid of natural shelters. Between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, modern humans occupied the East European Plain and the sites include open-air habitation areas and large-mammal kill-butchery locations, sometimes associated with springs. Innovative technologies allowed them to expand their diet breadth to small vertebrates and to survive extreme winter temperatures. Dispersing from the southern latitudes, modern humans may have found parts of the East European Plain unoccupied by local Neanderthals, who apparently lacked these technologies. Despite the success of their initial occupation, much of the modern human population of the East European Plain appears to have been wiped out 40,000 years ago by the ash plume of the CI volcanic eruption, followed by a protracted interval of extreme cold climate (Heinrich Event 4).


My primary research focus is the global dispersal of anatomically modern humans, which began more than 50,000 years ago in Africa. My specific geographic focus is Eastern Europe, where I have done field and lab research since the late 1980s. Since 2001, I have been working at open-air sites on the East European Plain, in both Russia and Ukraine, that were occupied by modern humans more than 30,000 years ago. In 2012, I began a new field project at Mira, located on the Lower Dnepr River. I also have worked for many years in Alaska. Recently, my Alaskan research has addressed questions about the emergence of Inupiaq settlement and economy on the coast of NW Alaska, and in 2011 I completed the field phase of a multi-year project at Cape Espenberg (northern Seward Peninsula).


Further Information

● since 1998, research faculty at Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado at Boulder
● BA in archaeology (Yale 1975), MA in anthropology (University of Alaska 1979)
● investigated archaeological sites in central Alaska related to early occupation of Beringia during 1980s (Science paper in 1993)
● PhD in anthropology (U of Chicago 1986) with focus on Paleolithic archaeology of Russia and Ukraine
● research scientist at Argonne National Laboratory (1984–1998)
● researched Neanderthal sites in northern Caucasus with Russian colleagues in 1990s (including Mezmaiskaya Cave, which yielded Neanderthal skeletal remains)
● author of Desolate Landscapes: Ice-Age Settlement in Eastern Europe (Rutgers U Press, 2002)
● researched earliest known modern human occupations in Eastern Europe (central plain) with Russian colleagues during 2001–2009 (Science paper in 2007)
● author (with co-author Scott Elias) of Human Ecology of Beringia (Columbia U Press 2007)
● researched early Inuit sites in northwest Alaska during 2000–2011
● researched early modern human sites on East European Plain with Ukrainian and Russian colleagues during 2012–2018 with focus on geochronology
● author of Modern Humans: Their African Origin and Global Dispersal (Columbia U Press 2017) (Choice “outstanding academic title” 2019)