Big Brains, Small Worlds: Material culture and human evolution

This source preferred by Fiona Coward

Authors: Coward, F.

Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences

Volume: 363

Pages: 1969-1979

ISSN: 0962-8436

DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0004

New developments in neuroimaging have demonstrated that the basic capacities underpinning human social skills are shared by our closest extant primate relatives. The challenge for archaeologists is to explain how complex human societies evolved from this shared pattern of face-to-face social interaction. We argue that a key process was the gradual incorporation of material culture into social networks over the course of hominin evolution. Here we use three long-term processes in hominin evolution—encephalization, the global human diaspora and sedentism/agriculture—to illustrate how the cultural transmission ofmaterial culture allowed the ‘scaling up’ of face-to-face social interactions to the global societies known today. We conclude that future research by neuroimagers and archaeologists will need to investigate the cognitive mechanisms behind human engagement with material culture as well as other persons.

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