Our first steps to Europe: Pleistocene Homo sapiens dispersals, adaptations and interactions in South-East Europe


Despite recent discoveries in human evolution, the origin of our species, Homo sapiens, and the process through which it expanded and became established around the globe remain murky. Increasingly, it is viewed as a dynamic process of population expansions and contact among human lineages, occurring in concert with the Pleistocene climatic oscillations, which influence the probability of human survival as well as the availability of land bridges enabling expansions. Dispersals and population contact, therefore, may have been the norm in human evolution and may have played a greater role in shaping our species than previously recognised. In such a model, South-East Europe emerges as a likely area of sustained and / or repeated contact, making this region critical for testing hypotheses about European deep prehistory. Despite this crucial role, however, paleoanthropological research there remains in its infancy, with little existing data and no overarching interpretive framework. FIRSTSTEPS aims to fill this research gap by applying inter-disciplinary cutting edge investigation to recover new and connect existing evidence across sites, periods and regions. Key sites / finds from South-East Europe (Greece, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, Romania) and Italy — whose better documented record has yet to be connected to its counterparts to the East and will provide a crucial comparative perspective — will be included. In-depth analysis of important fossil / cultural assemblages from specific chrono-cultural periods ca. 200-30 ka, will be conducted to identify patterns of biological and cultural variation. In parallel, regional and supra-regional perspectives will be constructed beyond individual sites /countries. By addressing this crucial research gap FIRSTSTEPS will take paleoanthropological research in this important region to the next level and squarely place it on the paleolithic map of Europe.

Project details

Unibo Team Leader: Stefano Benazzi

Unibo involved Department/s:
Dipartimento di Beni Culturali

Eberhard Karls Universitaet Tuebingen (Ut)(Germany)

Other Participants:
ALMA MATER STUDIORUM - Università di Bologna (Italy)

Total Eu Contribution: Euro (EUR) 3.306.062,50
Project Duration in months: 60
Start Date: 01/04/2022
End Date: 31/03/2027

Cordis webpage

UE flag This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101019659