Human Origins Leiden

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Joordens, Josephine C.A.

Personal Information:

Position: Staff
Phone or fax: +31(0)715272931
Location: Room A1.18a

Josephine Joordens JoseSmall

Trained as a marine biologist, I completed my PhD in Earth and Life Sciences (VU University Amsterdam) in 2011, and worked as postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Archaeology from April 2010 till January 2017. From January 2017 onwards, I continue my work at the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, while remaining affiliated to the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden. My VU address is: De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

I can be reached at and 

My premise is that hominins should be regarded as just another mammal surviving, reproducing and evolving in its environment. Therefore, it is crucial to gain detailed knowledge of hominin paleoenvironments, faunal context and ecology. An important underlying assumption in my research is that the presence of water always must have been an important factor for hominins: as drinking water, but also as a source of freshwater and marine food resources.

Presently my research consist of three ongoing projects:

TURKANA: This project focuses on reconstructing climate and environment in the Turkana Basin (Kenya) of ~2 million year ago, when two early Homo species together with Paranthropus boisei roamed the landscape. It is done in the framework of the ICDP Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP), and the Turkana Cyclostratigraphy Project (see NWO and Feibel's Lab). In 2013, a core was drilled in West Turkana paleolake deposits, and we did a complementary outcrop fieldwork near the drill site. The first articles are now in review and will be published in the course of 2017.  

 COASTAL ORIGINS? In 2013 I was awarded a NWO Veni Grant and started this project (see Leiden news) that aims to develop a biogeographical framework for early hominin evolution in Africa, between ~5 and 2.5 million years ago. I hypothesize that recurrent climatically stable episodes, paced by eccentricity, caused recurrent riverine connections between coastal refuge areas and inland marginal areas, including the Chad Basin in West-Central Africa. To assess occurrence and timing of such East-West dispersal corridors, we use genetic distance between extant fish populations in Lakes Turkana and Chad as proxy for past hydrographic connectivity between these basins.

TRINIL: My other research project centers on the rich fossil fauna from the Homo erectus type locality Trinil on Java (Indonesia). This unique collection, excavated by my scientific hero Eugène Dubois (1858-1940) and housed at Naturalis in Leiden, is a treasure trove that may hold many important clues to the behaviour and cognition of Javanese Homo erectus. Following our 2015 publication in Nature (on shell material from the Dubois Collection) we were invited by the National Research Center for Archaeology ARKENAS (Jakarta) to collaborate in a new field study of this classical site. In August 2016, together we successfully conducted a pilot fieldwork in Trinil that provides a key fundament for future studies.In May 2017 I have been awarded the prestigious Vidi grant from NWO to continue our research in Trinil for 5 years, starting in January 2018.

The project is titled: Studying Homo erectus Lifestyle and Location (SHeLL): an integrated geo-archaeological research of the hominin site Trinil on Java 

 In the 1890s, the Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois proved Darwin right by finding the first fossils of our extinct relative Homo erectus at Trinil on Java (Indonesia). Since then, one of the major questions of humankind has been to find out “what made us human”. H. erectus was morphologically in many ways like us, and the first hominin species to spread over Africa, Eurasia and Southeast Asia from about 1.8 Ma onwards. However, it is still unknown what behavioural and lifestyle characteristics caused H. erectus to achieve this cosmopolitan distribution. I contend that the site of Trinil on Java is the ideal location to study this research question: our recent discovery of an engraved fossil shell from Trinil, published in Nature, indicates that behavioural differences between Javanese H. erectus and modern humans may be smaller than previously thought. The joint Indonesian-Dutch Studying Homo erectus Lifestyle and Location (SHeLL) project aims to establish the geochronological, climatic- environmental and behavioural context of H. erectus at Trinil, to resolve hominin biogeography on Java and ultimately “what made us human”. The project comprises analysis of existing fossil collections from Trinil and an integrated geo-archaeological re-excavation of Trinil, providing a unique opportunity to look with new eyes at a flagship site of human evolution. I have defined three subprojects: 1) Geochronology, applying a multi-method dating approach to provide for the first time a reliable age model for the ~15 m stack of hominin-bearing layers at Trinil; 2) Paleoecology, reconstructing a climatic-environmental framework providing temporal correlations to all hominin fossils from Trinil, including two previously unpublished postcranial bones; 3) Behaviour, identifying artefacts to gain insight in (changes in) H. erectus lifestyle and niche as a function of (changes in) the ecosystems it was part of. This project will improve understanding of the evolutionary history of our lineage. 



  • Janssen R, Joordens JCA, Koutamanis DS, Puspaningrum MR, De Vos J, Van der Lubbe JHJL, Reijmer JJG, Hampe O, Vonhof HB. 2016. Tooth enamel stable isotopes of Holocene and Pleistocene fossil fauna reveal glacial and interglacial paleoenvironments of hominins in Indonesia. Quaternary Science Reviews(144): 145–154. [More] 
  • Joordens JCA, D’Errico F, Wesselingh FP, Munro S, De Vos J, Wallinga J, Ankjærgaard C, Reimann T, Wijbrans JR, Kuiper KF, Mücher HJ, Coqueugniot H, Prié V, Joosten I, Van Os B and others. 2015. Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving. Nature. [More] 
  • Joordens JCA, Kuipers RS, Wanink JH, Muskiet FAJ. 2014. A fish is not a fish: Patterns in fatty acid composition of aquatic food may have had implications for hominin evolution. Journal of Human Evolution: -. [More] 
  • Joordens JCA, Dupont-Nivet G, Feibel CS, Spoor F, Sier MJ, Van der Lubbe JHJL, Nielsen TK, Knul MV, Davies GR, Vonhof HB. 2013. Improved age control on early Homo fossils from the upper Burgi Member at Koobi Fora, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution: -. [More] 
  • Vonhof HB, Joordens JCA, Noback ML, Van der Lubbe J, Feibel CS, Kroon D. 2013. Environmental and climatic control on seasonal stable isotope variation of freshwater molluscan bivalves in the Turkana Basin (Kenya). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 383-384: 16-26. [More]