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Vincent Niochet investigates intercultural connectivity in the deep past with an NWO PhDs in the Humanities grant

For already two years, Vincent Niochet has been affiliated with the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology as an external PhD candidate. Now, he has been awarded an NWO PhDs in the Humanities grant, allowing him to continue his research as a paid PhD staff member. ‘The past two years have been quite challenging, but it led to this point. I’m still a bit stunned actually, and very happy.’


We speak with Vincent from his current job at the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeology (INRAP). He is involved in the excavation of a prehistoric site in Orléans, but this has nothing to do with the subject of his PhD. ‘The core of my project is the cooperation between groups of people in the deep past. As a case study, I focus on the period of 35.000-45.000 years ago, in a broad area between northern Spain and northern France.’ Distinguished thanks to the study of artefacts, three archaeological cultures overlapped there at this time. ‘We try and investigate the nature and degree of contact between these archaeological cultures. Two of these are associated exclusively with anatomically modern humans, while the other is associated commonly with Neandertals.’

Evolution of culture

Vincent focuses on the interactions between these archaeological cultures. ‘This is a perfect case study for investigating the role of social connectivity between different human groups in the evolution of culture. We know these groups have interacted, for we still retain Neandertal genes nowadays. This genetic exchange might be the tree hiding the forest.’ There might have been many more instances of interaction. ‘How was material culture affected and changed by these interactions?’ For Vincent, answering this question is the first step toward reconstructing Palaeolithic cooperation and its implications on the evolution of culture. ‘How did humans from different cultural groups cooperate? And did diversity increase adaptability and technology? I hope this study will provide insights into how we cooperate today.’

Social network

To answer his research questions, Vincent will investigate a dozen of sites all across France and even in Spain. ‘It will be a bottom-up approach: first, I will experiment with the transmission of technical information between expert knappers, then I will search for the techniques transmitted by close contact in the archaeological record.’ By looking at the manufacturing techniques of stone-tools and bone ornaments, the complex processes of transmitting and combining knowledge will hopefully come out. ‘The final stage is to overlap several levels of large-scale networks made of different archaeological data collected on stone-tools and ornaments, that may evidence inter-group social connectivity.’

Neandertal Legacy

Vincent is working closely with and supervised by Marie Soressi. He is embedded in her Neandertal Legacy project. ‘I will come to Leiden when my current excavation wraps up in September. And then, I will spend the next four years full-time in Leiden. I am still a bit stunned about that. During the past years, I was forced to be away from the place where I wanted to work.’ But not anymore! We will see Vincent Niochet at our Faculty from September 2023 onwards.

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