Edited by Christopher S. Henshilwood and Francesco d'Errico
[Not in series 168] 2011
► pp. 111–132
Chapter 6. The emergence of language, art and symbolic thinking
A Neandertal test of competing hypotheses
There is a widespread understanding that the personal ornaments of the African Middle Stone Age and the animal and human figurines of the Aurignacian of southern Germany provide the earliest evidence of the possession of “modern” cognitive capabilities, ones that appeared for the first time in human evolution as a result of the speciation of Homo sapiens and that would explain its rapid expansion from Africa into Eurasia and the attendant extinction of coeval archaic humans (such as the Neandertals). The archaeological facts contradict this view, since there is abundant evidence for the existence of such “modern” capabilities in non-sapiens populations, and that language, “symbolic thinking” by definition, is probably as old as the human genus. Therefore, the explanation for the emergence of body ornamentation and figurative art must be sought not in the realm of cognition but in that of history, with demographic growth and the intensification of social interaction networks playing a primary role in the process.
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