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In this book, Jennifer French presents a new synthesis of the archaeological, palaeoanthropological, and palaeogenetic records of the European Palaeolithic, adopting a unique demographic perspective on these first two-million years of European prehistory. Unlike prevailing narratives of demographic stasis, she emphasises the dynamism of Palaeolithic populations of both our evolutionary ancestors and members of our own species across four demographic stages, within a context of substantial Pleistocene climatic changes. Integrating evolutionary theory with a socially oriented approach to the Palaeolithic, French bridges biological and cultural factors, with a focus on women and children as the drivers of population change. She shows how, within the physiological constraints on fertility and mortality, social relationships provide the key to enduring demographic success. Through its demographic focus, French combines a 'big picture' perspective on human evolution with careful analysis of the day-to-day realities of European Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities—their families, their children, and their lives.
For most of human history, some 300,000 years, we lived in immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies that were egalitarian and sustainable. Hunter-gatherers lived using direct flows of plants, animals, and materials from nature. This required institutions and belief systems that reinforced sustainable resource use. The social cohesion and egalitarianism of small-scale, face-to-face societies also required institutions and customs that promoted harmony and protection for all members. New evidence about hunter-gatherers contradicts the widely held belief that today’s pervasive inequality and the decimation of the nonhuman world are due to “human nature.” Two prevalent beliefs reinforce the “defective human nature” view: the idea of Pleistocene overkill and the belief that hierarchy and inequality characterized early human societies. Both ideas are examined and debunked in this chapter. This chapter also stresses the importance of diversity, serendipity, and synergy in human physical and social evolution.
Chapter 3 begins the introduction to Jan Assmann through material that is shared between him and Girard: Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism. This text stepped into a multi-century discourse that tried to abolish the monotheistic distinction between “Israel” vs. “Egypt.” But, contrary to simplistic readings of Freud as the enemy of religion, he ultimately argues (with mixed veracity) that monotheistic intolerance is a beneficial “progress in intellectuality.” This introduces much of Assmann’s topics: that is, comparing monotheism between Akhenaten and Egypt, Moses and Israel, and theorizing monotheism’s relationship to violence and politics.
In Chapter 2, I introduce Girard’s mimetic theory with emphasis on his understanding of gods, “the victim mechanism,” and monotheism. What does it mean that monotheism interrupts archaic polytheistic religion by dividing God from the victim? This invites us to venture out into other monotheistic scholarship, like Assmann’s and its Freudian roots.
What does Darwin’s theory have to say about human evolution? To answer this question, we turn first to philosophical discussions on the nature of rationality, specifically those of David Hume and Immanuel Kant. They both argue that the mind is preformed for thinking, with certain norms about mathematics and causality a priori for the individual human. Darwin argues that this is all a product of selection. Those proto-humans who took mathematics and causality seriously survived and reproduced, and those that did not, did not. This is Pragmatism, as we see from a brief consideration of the thinking of C. S. Peirce in the nineteenth century and Richard Rorty in the twentieth. We are not stuck in relativism, because the scientific evidence is that there is little genetic variation between humans. What we do not have, because Darwinism is within the mechanism paradigm, is any way of extracting absolute value from science and hence the natural world. Darwinian science cannot prove human superiority. This is preparing the way for existentialism.
Although the twentieth century saw a transition to a less goal-directed model of progress, efforts were still made to defend the older vision in which humanity was the predetermined end of evolution and a particular social order the goal of social progress. Christian thinkers still tended to think of evolution as a process driven by cooperation rather than struggle, with humanity and a spiritually mature society as the goals. Even within a Darwinian framework, it has been argued that evolution is subject to constraints that leave something like humanity as the only possible end-point. From the opposite ideological position, Soviet Marxism preserved the image of a sequence of developmental stages leading to the future utopia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union there were suggestions that free-enterprise capitalism is the final end-point of social evolution.
Sixty years of research on chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Gombe National Park, Tanzania have revealed many similarities with human behaviour, including hunting, tool use and coalitionary killing. The close phylogenetic relationship between chimpanzees and humans suggests that these traits were present in the last common ancestor of Pan and Homo (LCAPH). However, findings emerging from studies of our other closest living relative, the bonobo (Pan paniscus), indicate that either bonobos are derived in these respects, or the many similarities between chimpanzees and humans evolved convergently. In either case, field studies provide opportunities to test hypotheses for how and why our lineage has followed its peculiar path through the adaptive landscape. Evidence from primate field studies suggests that the hominin path depends on our heritage as apes: inefficient quadrupeds with grasping hands, orthograde posture and digestive systems that require high-quality foods. Key steps along this path include: (a) changes in diet; (b) increased use of tools; (c) bipedal gait; (d) multilevel societies; (e) collective foraging, including a sexual division of labour and extensive food transfers; and (f) language. Here I consider some possible explanations for these transitions, with an emphasis on contributions from Gombe.
Cultural evolutionary theory conceptualises culture as an information-transmission system whose dynamics take on evolutionary properties. Within this framework, however, innovation has been likened to random mutations, reducing its occurrence to chance or fortuitous transmission error. In introducing the special collection on children and innovation, we here place object play and play objects – especially functional miniatures – from carefully chosen archaeological contexts in a niche construction perspective. Given that play, including object play, is ubiquitous in human societies, we suggest that plaything construction, provisioning and use have, over evolutionary timescales, paid substantial selective dividends via ontogenetic niche modification. Combining findings from cognitive science, ethology and ethnography with insights into hominin early developmental life-history, we show how play objects and object play probably had decisive roles in the emergence of innovative capabilities. Importantly, we argue that closer attention to play objects can go some way towards addressing changes in innovation rates that occurred throughout human biocultural evolution and why innovations are observable within certain technological domains but not others.
In this introductory chapter, we outline some conceptual building blocks for an ecosocial view of the co-construction of mind, brain, and culture. The brain is the organ of culture; mind and experience are processes located in loops of active engagement of brain and body with the social world. This engagement occurs on multiple time scales, from evolution and co-evolutionary adaptation to humanly designed niches, through the cultural history of populations and communities, to individual developmental trajectories, narratives of the self, and moment-to-moment engagements with social contexts. We are born biologically equipped to acquire culture and, across our lifespan, we become attuned to particular social and cultural environments. The niches we inhabit are cooperatively constructed and presented to us as cultural affordances that enable our cognitive capacities, sense of self, adaptive skills, and meaning-making capacity. The rewiring of brain circuits, synaptic plasticity, and underlying changes in gene regulation only make sense in relation to the particular resources, affordances, and adaptive tasks presented to us by specific cultural environments. Answering the question of what makes us human then turns out to involve not just an evolutionary story in deep time, but also cultural and individual stories in historical, developmental, and biographical time.
Ancient stone tools provide a unique source of empirical evidence for reconstructing the evolutionary origins of human culture, mind, and brain. As a key component of hominid adaptations throughout the Paleolithic, stone tools not only document human evolution but likely helped to shape it. Properly interpreting this evidence requires both “middle-range” theory linking archaeologically observable material remains to the behaviors that created them and high-level theory appropriate for placing these reconstructed behaviors in a broader evolutionary framework. An extended evolutionary perspective on Paleolithic toolmaking as embodied practice integrates levels of analysis by emphasizing the interaction of evolutionary and behavioral processes unfolding on multiple spatiotemporal scales. Although much work remains to be done, initial efforts toward an integrated evolutionary neuroscience of toolmaking are beginning to trace the evolution of a uniquely human technological niche rooted in a shared primate heritage of visuomotor coordination and dexterous manipulation.
Warfare in the deep past was pervasive and deadly. To understand the past, warfare must be considered as deadly conflict between independent polities and not the type of weapons and sizes of fighting forces. In spite of their limitations, the archaeological record and early historical ethnographic records provide considerable evidence relevant to warfare. From this we can conclude warfare was deadlier as a proportion of the males dying of warfare than in recent centuries. In particular, warfare among foragers (hunters and gatherers) was much more common than generally perceived. There is no evidence that there were long intervals of time, for any society in the past, when there was no warfare; or, put another way, there were no peaceful societies for any great length of time. The impact warfare had on societies, what caused changes in the intensity of warfare, and did it lead to selection for traits that resulted in warfare success, is discussed. In particular, the impact of climate change and competition over scarce resources are seen as key factors in ancient warfare.
The importance of care of infants and children in palaeoanthropological and human behavioural ecological research on the evolution of our species is evident in the diversity of research on human development, alloparental care, and learning and social interaction. There has been a recent surge of interest in modelling the social implications of care provision for people with serious disabilities in bioarchaeology. However, there is a lack of acknowledgement of infant and child care in bioarchaeology, despite the significant labour and resources that are required, and the implications this has for health outcomes within societies. Drawing on the recent proliferation of studies on infancy and childhood in evolutionary anthropology and bioarchaeology, this paper presents ways the subdisciplines may draw on research developments from each field to advance a more holistic understanding of the evolutionary, social and health significance of infant and children care in the past.
This book provides a synthetic overview of all evidence concerning the evolution of the morphology of the human pelvis, including comparative anatomy, clinical and experimental studies, and quantitative evolutionary models. By integrating these lines of research, this is the first book to bring all sources of evidence together to develop a coherent statement about the current state of the art in understanding pelvic evolution. Second, and related to this, the volume is the first detailed assessment of existing paradigms about the evolution of the pelvis, especially the obstetric dilemma. The authors argue that there are many 'dilemmas', but these must be approached using a testable methodology, rather than on the proviso of a single paradigm. The volume clearly contributes to greater scientific knowledge about human variation and evolution, and has implications for clinicians working within reproductive health. A thought-provoking read for students, researchers and professionals in the fields of biological anthropology, human evolutionary anthropology, paleoanthropology, bioarchaeology, biology, developmental biology and obstetrics.
In this book, Katina Lillios provides an up-to-date synthesis of the rich histories of the peoples who lived on the Iberian Peninsula between 1,400,000 (the Paleolithic) and 3,500 years ago (the Bronze Age) as revealed in their art, burials, tools, and monuments. She highlights the exciting new discoveries on the Peninsula, including the evidence for some of the earliest hominins in Europe, Neanderthal art, interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, and relationships to peoples living in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Western Europe. This is the first book to relate the ancient history of the Peninsula to broader debates in anthropology and archaeology. Amply illustrated and written in an accessible style, it will be of interest to archaeologists and students of prehistoric Spain and Portugal.
We may already be convinced of the value of studying primates, but we often need to convince others of that value in proposals, reports and papers. This chapter covers the reasons to study primates, including appreciation of their fascinating diversity and adaptations, their important ecological functions, their evolutionary relationship with humans, their socio-cultural importance, concern for their captive welfare, and their conservation status.
The role played by the Arabian Peninsula in hominin dispersals out of Africa has long been debated. The DISPERSE Project has focused on south-western Arabia as a possible centre of hominin settlement and a primary stepping-stone for such dispersals. This work has led to the recent discovery, at Wadi Dabsa, of an exceptional assemblage of over 1000 lithic artefacts, including the first known giant handaxe from the Arabian Peninsula. The site and its associated artefacts provide important new evidence for hominin dispersals out of Africa, and give further insight into the giant handaxe phenomenon present within the Acheulean stone tool industry.
Human leucocyte antigens (HLAs) are responsible for the display of peptide fragments for recognition by T-cell receptors. The gene family encoding them is thus integral to human adaptive immunity, and likely to be under strong pathogen selection. Despite this, it has proved difficult to demonstrate specific examples of pathogen–HLA coevolution. Selection from multiple pathogens simultaneously could explain why the evolutionary signatures of particular pathogens on HLAs have proved elusive. Here, we present an individual-based model of HLA evolution in the presence of two mortality-causing pathogens. We demonstrate that it is likely that individual pathogen species causing high mortality have left recognizable signatures on the HLA genomic region, despite more than one pathogen being present. Such signatures are likely to exist at the whole-population level, and involve haplotypic combinations of HLA genes rather than single loci.
Post-colonial thought affects the heart of Western science. Although there is comparatively little engagement with post-colonial theory in the fields traditionally concerned with human origins or human evolution, it should be of critical importance to Palaeolithic archaeology and human evolutionary studies. Examination of recent literature dealing with so-called modern human origins highlights key neglected aspects of this discourse, namely the status of nature and rationality, and demonstrates how these aspects are entangled with ongoing political and colonial influences on the production of knowledge.
The human species is an outlier in the natural world. Two million years ago our ancestors were a slightly odd apes. Now we occupy the largest ecological and geographical range of any species, have larger biomass, and process more energy. Usually, this transformation is explained in terms of cognitive ability—people are just smarter than all the rest. In this paper I argue that culture, our ability to learn from each other, and cooperation, our ability to make common cause with large groups of unrelated individuals are the real roots of human uniqueness, and sketch an evolutionary account of how these crucial abilities co-evolved with each other and with other features of our life histories.