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Cave art, autism, and the evolution of the human mind

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The emergence of cave art in Europe about 30,000 years ago is widely believed to be evidence that by this time human beings had developed sophisticated capacities for symbolization and communication. However, comparison of the cave art with the drawings made by a young autistic girl, Nadia, reveals surprising similarities in content and style. Nadia, despite her graphic skills, was mentally defective and had virtually no language. I argue in the light of this comparison that the existence of the cave art cannot be the proof which it is usually assumed to be that the humans of the Upper Palaeolithic had essentially ‘modern’ minds.

The article includes peer commentary by Paul Bahn, Paul Bloom, Uta Frith, Ezra Zubrow, Steven Mithen, Ian Tattersall, Chris Knight, Chris McManus and Daniel Dennett , with response by Nicholas Humphrey. [Owing to the number of illustrations, the full text for this file is in excess of 1 Mb. (pdf format).]

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: CPNSS, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK.

Publication date: 1999-06-01

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