Archaeological Evidence for the Emergence of Language, Symbolism, and Music–An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective

Authors: d'Errico, F.1; Henshilwood, C.2; Lawson, G.3; Vanhaeren, M.4; Tillier, A-M.5; Soressi, M.4; Bresson, F.5; Maureille, B.5; Nowell, A.6; Lakarra, J.7; Backwell, L.8; Julien, M.9

Source: Journal of World Prehistory, Volume 17, Number 1, March 2003 , pp. 1-70(70)

Publisher: Springer

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In recent years, there has been a tendency to correlate the origin of modern culture and language with that of anatomically modern humans. Here we discuss this correlation in the light of results provided by our first hand analysis of ancient and recently discovered relevant archaeological and paleontological material from Africa and Europe. We focus in particular on the evolutionary significance of lithic and bone technology, the emergence of symbolism, Neandertal behavioral patterns, the identification of early mortuary practices, the anatomical evidence for the acquisition of language, the development of conscious symbolic storage, the emergence of musical traditions, and the archaeological evidence for the diversification of languages during the Upper Paleolithic. This critical reappraisal contradicts the hypothesis of a symbolic revolution coinciding with the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe some 40,000 years ago, but also highlights inconsistencies in the anatomically–culturally modern equation and the potential contribution of anatomically “pre-modern” human populations to the emergence of these abilities. No firm evidence of conscious symbolic storage and musical traditions are found before the Upper Paleolithic. However, the oldest known European objects that testify to these practices already show a high degree of complexity and geographic variability suggestive of possible earlier, and still unrecorded, phases of development.

Keywords: Neandertals; bone tools; language; music; symbolism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: UMR 5808 of the CNRS, Institut de Préhistoire et de Géologie du Quaternaire, Université Bordeaux I, Avenue des Facultés, Talence, France; 2: African Heritage Research Institute, Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway. SUNY at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 3: McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom 4: UMR 5808 of the CNRS, Institut de Préhistoire et de Géologie du Quaternaire, Université Bordeaux I, Avenue des Facultés, Talence, France 5: Laboratoire d'Anthropologie des Populations du Passé, Université Bordeaux I, Avenue des Facultés, Talence, France 6: Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 7: Department of Basque Philology, Facultad de Filología, Geografía e Historia, Campus de Alava, C/Paseo de la Universidad, Vitoria, Spain 8: Palaeo-Anthropology Unit for Research and Exploration, School of Earth Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa 9: Maison René Ginouvés, UMR 7041, équipe d'Ethnologie Préhistorique, 21 Allée de l'Université, Nanterre Cedex, Paris, France

Publication date: March 1, 2003

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