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Hohlenstein-Stadel and the Evolution of Human Conceptual Thought

  • Thomas Wynn (a1), Frederick Coolidge (a2) and Martha Bright (a3)


Cognitive neuroscience provides a powerful perspective on the brain and cognition from which archaeologists can begin to document the evolution of the human mind. The following essay uses the Hohlenstein-Stadel figurine as a starting point to demonstrate the two kinds of conclusion open to an evolutionary cognitive archaeology: first, describing features of the cognitive life-world at specific points in human evolution, in this case central Europe 32,000 years ago, and second identifying the evolutionary timing and contexts for specific cognitive abilities, in this case various components of concept formation. We argue that the abstract concept underpinning the Hohlenstein-Stadel figurine resulted initially from an effortful (attentive) linking of ‘animal’ and ‘person’ concepts via the working memory network of the frontal and parietal lobes. These ‘animal’ and ‘person’ concepts themselves were largely unconscious folk biological categories generated by a parietal network that had evolved earlier, probably by the time of the earliest Homo sapiens. These in turn rest on even older, basic ontological categories of ‘animate’ and ‘manipulable’ objects that are temporal lobe networks, and which evolved much earlier still, perhaps with the advent of Homo erectus.



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Part 1 of Steps to a ‘Neuroarchaeology’ of Mind was published in CAJ 18(3), 381–422. For an introduction and overview of this Special Section see CAJ 18(3), 381–5.

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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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