It is often said that Homo erectus made the same handaxe for one and a half million years. Yet the axes came in many different sizes, although they kept the same proportions. How did they manage that?
The completely modern human mind began 2 million years ago,
writes independent scholar John Feliks in a paper published in a book titled Pleistocene Paleoart of the World. The paper, Phi in the Acheulian (abstract here), is new to me although it was read a couple of years ago in Lisbon at a conference of the International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP). It proposes a radical solution to the biggest archaeological mystery related to speech origins. Biological data insists that speech must be very old, while archaeological data suggests symbolic thought is much more recent. How are these two lines of evidence to be reconciled?
Feliks offers a solution. His paper cites archaeological evidence that abstract thinking is very old, much older than the rock art and carvings of the so-called symbolic big bang that occurred only a few score thousand years ago.
My first post of 2009 is about Darwin because this is Darwin’s year and Darwin is central to three issues that are critical to this blog. He was the first modern thinker about human origins, the similarity between biological and linguistic evolution, and the details of how natural selection works. Taken together these areas have given us a new way of thinking about the foundations of human speech, and changed the kinds of questions we ask about human origins. None of the questions that direct this blog were even possible before Darwin:
What in the chimpanzee/human lineage provided a foundation for speech?
What had to be introduced into the lineage to make speech possible?
What, if anything, came out of that process that made us radically unlike other animals?
Nope, I'm not back from my holiday vacation, but I wanted to take a moment to say Neuranthropology has posted a list of "Best of Anthro" posts of 2008. If you're looking for good reading, check it out here.