When academics talk about early modern humans, especially those living way back in the Lower Paleolithic, the conversation frequently turns to hunting. When did our species start eating meat? What were the first animals we killed and consumed?
Amy Elizabeth Clark, a newly appointed assistant professor of anthropology, understands why. “A big part of our record comes from stone tools, and a certain number of those tools are weapons,” she said.
But Clark gravitates to other varieties of Stone Age artifacts. A specialist in the earliest reaches of the archaeological record, Clark is particularly fascinated by the first iterations of designated living spaces. Motivating this interest is what Clark calls a “feminist approach” to studying human history. “It’s a way of forwarding women when we think about the past,” she explained.
Clark’s interest dates to her time as an anthropology major at New York University. Upon earning her bachelor’s in 2005, she leapt at the opportunity to participate in excavations of early rockshelters in the southwest of France.
Once inhabited by the first Homo sapiens in Europe, these sites were “really integral to my thinking about the origins of the home,” Clark said. “The walls were decorated with engraved animals. They had these hearth-like features configured in a very specific way, and that configuration was repeated at several different sites. It seems they had a blueprint for what makes a home.”
Clark received her doctorate at the University of Arizona, doing her dissertation on some open-air Neanderthal sites, also located in southwestern France. It’s unclear how long these spaces were occupied. Nevertheless, Clark found them comparatively chaotic, littered with stone tools and bones. “You can see that to a certain degree in the modern human sites,” she said, “but there’s a greater sense of organization and also decorative elements.”