Developing frameworks for recognising and understanding the role of children in innovation during the deep past

Determining ‘what makes us human’ is arguably the most important question investigated by archaeology. Traditionally examined through the study of human remains and discarded tools, a new avenue of research as emerged: the role of children in technological and cultural evolution.

This Wenner-Gren symposium brings together leading researchers in archaeology, anthropology, primatology, and psychology from around the globe to focus on this vibrant new area of human evolution studies.

29 August 2019 — The Ship Inn, South Bank, Brisbane, Australia

Symposium objectives

Presentations and discussion will centre around the following four questions:

  • How do we understand the role of children in different hominin groups throughout human evolution?
  • Could children be a primary driver for dynamic changes in technology in prehistory — particularly over the past 300,000 years?
  • How can we use data on recent human and primate children to learn about those from millennia ago?
  • What could these patterns of past child-centred innovation tell us about the role of children in the present?


The Ship Inn, Cnr Stanley and Sidon Streets, South Bank Parklands, Brisbane.

This iconic Queenslander style hotel was constructed in 1864 and has been a host to sailors before transforming into a modern gastropub and conference venue. The symposium will be held on the second floor — easily accessible from behind the building.

Details & Registration

  • When: 29 August 2019
  • Where: The Ship Inn, South Bank , Brisbane

Registration covers the cost of Morning Tea, Lunch, and Afternoon Tea along with symposium materials. Registration Closes 22nd August 2019

  • Professionals: $75
  • Students: $65


  • PhD Candidtae Ella Assaf (Tel Aviv University, Israel)
  • A/Prof. Dan Temple (George Mason University, United States of America)
  • Dr Shiena Lew Levy (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom)
  • Prof. Lyudmila Lbova (Novosibirsk University, Russia)
  • A/Prof. Quentin Mackie (University of Victoria, Canada)
  • Dr Emilie Genty (Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
  • Dr Leslie Van Gelder (Walden University, United States of America)
  • Dr Emily Messer (University of Texas at Austin, United States of America)
  • Prof. Thomas Suddendorf (University of Queensland, Australia)
  • Prof. Kim Sterelny (Australian National University, Australia)
  • Dr Micah Goldwater (University of Sydney, Australia)
  • Dr Jayne Wilkins (Griffith University, Australia)
  • Dr Michelle C. Langley (Griffith University, Australia)
  • Prof. Felix Riede (Aarhus University, Denmark)
  • Prof. April Nowell (University of Victoria, Canada)
  • PhD Candidate Mackenzie Cory (Indiana University Bloomington, United States of America)


The day’s activities will begin at 8:30am — and will finish with drinks and canapés after a public lecture ‘Children of the Ice Age’ (details below). Specifics for the days events will be updated over the coming weeks.

Archival footage recorded by Betty Meehan and Rhys Jones between 1972-1974 at Blyth River in the Northern Territory will be screened during the day. See and hear Betty discuss her seminal work on shellfish use with the Anbarra — including gorgeous images of the communities youngest members actively participating in shellfishing activities.

Presentations by archaeologists, anthropologists, primatologists, and psychologists include:

  • Dawn of a new Day: Learning processes reflected in the archaeological record of a society facing transformations at the end of the Levantine Lower Palaeolithic — Ella Assaf
  • Playing with method: Identifying the places of past children in the North American plains — Mackenzie Cory
  • Signal combination in infant bonobos: A window into the learning process of successful signal production and the evolution of language — Emilie Genty
  • Analogy and innovation — Micah B. Goldwater
  • Archaeological perspectives on identifying innovation by children in deep history — Michelle C. Langley
  • The Siberian Mal’ta collection as a source for the study of Palaeolithic childhood — Lyudmila Lbova
  • The social side of innovation: Considering hunter-gatherer children as collaborative innovators — Shiena Lew-Levy, Noa Lavi, Annemieke Milks, and David Friesem
  • Noble kids and common artefacts: Ranking children in the archaeology of the northwest coast — Quentin Mackie
  • Social influences in the emergence and transmission of behaviour — Emily J.E. Messer
  • Adolescence in the European Upper Palaeolithic — April Nowell & Jennifer French
  • Constructing the niches of/for innovation: Play objects and object play in a niche construction perspective — Felix Riede
  • Innovation, life history, and social networks in human evolution — Kim Sterelny
  • Foresight, innovation, and deliberate practice — Thomas Suddendorf
  • So tonight I might see: Bioarchaeological evidence for the ontology of relational identities at Point Hope, Alaska — Dan H. Temple & Lauryn C. Justice
  • The kids are alright: Ice Age children’s activity and mark-making in European and Australian caves — Leslie Van Gelder
  • Learner-driven, bottom-up innovation in the stone tool technology of early Homo sapiens — Jayne Wilkins

Public lecture

‘Children of the Ice Age: What can the study of past children tell us about human evolution?’  with Dr Michelle C. Langley (ARCHE)

Determining ‘what makes us human’ is arguably the most important question investigated by archaeology. Traditionally examined through the study of human remains and discarded tools, a new avenue of research as emerged: the role of children in technological and cultural evolution. This seminar will outline what we currently know of Neanderthal and Modern Human children who lived between 100,000 and 11,000 years ago — highlighting the challenges and opportunities for human evolution researchers to follow.

Organising committee

  • Dr Michelle C. Langley - Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Australia.
  • Prof. Felix Riede - Dept. of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark
  • Prof. April Nowell - Dept. of Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Victoria, Canada.


This Symposium is generously supported by Griffith University Sciences, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Interacting Minds Centre (Aarhus University), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Any questions?

If you have any questions please contact us