Program 2022

Events for Fall 2022 (Sep-Dec)

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Up next!


November 28th, 2022

Time: 13:00 in Helsinki

NOTE: This will be a face-to-face event, live-streamed on Zoom in our regular zoom meeting point. If you are in Helsinki, please join us at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (3rd Floor, Common Room, Fabianinkatu 24 A). 

Human navigation: Evolution, cognition, devices

with Karenleigh A. Overmann, University of Colorado


In this seminar I will explore how human societies navigate: route following, survey knowledge, and devices. Route following, the ability to move from one landmark to the next, is how all primate species navigate, including humans and ancestral species like Homo erectus. As practiced by human societies, traditional route following involves distinguishing subtle environmental clues; establishing, memorizing, and marking trails and tracks; giving places descriptive and memorable names; codifying route knowledge in stories and songs; and using spatial memory. I will present several interesting cases of route following, including the Mississippi river, Aboriginal dreaming tracks, and London taxi driving. In comparison, survey knowledge requires a spatial ability unique to humans: allocentric perception, the ability to coordinate features and relations across multiple dimensions. I will explain how this ability can be seen emerging in the archaeological record of stone tools, first as bilateral symmetry about two million years ago and then as symmetry across three dimensions about five hundred thousand years ago. Allocentric navigation is the same ability used to shape stone tools multidimensionally, expanded to sets of features and relations that are non-contiguous (not located in a single object) and distributed (across landscape and sky). This ability allowed our species to leave Africa to colonize virtually every environment on the planet within the past two hundred thousand years or less. I will illustrate how human societies combine allocentric navigation with route following with Pacific open ocean navigation, as well as historical devices like maps and compasses using cases from Babylon and the Vikings.

Karenleigh A. Overmann is an associate professor of anthropology (adjunct) and acting director of the Center for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She earned her doctorate in archaeology from the University of Oxford in 2016 as a Clarendon scholar. In June 2020, she completed two years of postdoctoral research at the University of Bergen (MSCA individual fellowship, EU project 785793), and she was a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburgh from Sept. 2020 to June 2021. She investigates how societies create complex cultural systems by using and modifying material forms over generations of collaborative effort, the effect this elaborational mechanism has on conceptual content, how material forms become increasingly refined to elicit specific behavioral and psychological responses, and what this might augur about the future of human cognition. To date, she has published 57 articles and book chapters, two special journal issues, and three books: The material origin of numbers (Gorgias Press, 2019), Squeezing minds from stones (Oxford University Press, 2019, co-edited with Frederick L. Coolidge), and Nature and transformation of writing systems in the ancient Near East (Ugarit Verlag, 2021, co-edited with Gösta Gabriel and Annick Payne). Her fourth book, The materiality of numbers, is in press (Cambridge University Press, 2023), and she is currently co-editing The Oxford handbook of cognitive archaeology (Oxford University Press, 2023) with Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge.

Host: Veronica Walker Vadillo

Save the dates!


November 28th, 2022: Karenleigh A Overmann, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Archaeology, University of Colorado

December 15th (TBC), 2022: Book Launch “Down by the Water: interdisciplinary studies in human-environment interactions in watery spaces