Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition

Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition

April Nowell
Iain Davidson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition
    Book Description:

    Stone tools are the most durable and common type of archaeological remain and one of the most important sources of information about behaviors of early hominins. Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition develops methods for examining questions of cognition, demonstrating the progression of mental capabilities from early hominins to modern humans through the archaeological record.   Dating as far back as 2.5-2.7 million years ago, stone tools were used in cutting up animals, woodworking, and preparing vegetable matter. Today, lithic remains give archaeologists insight into the forethought, planning, and enhanced working memory of our early ancestors. Contributors focus on multiple ways in which archaeologists can investigate the relationship between tools and the evolving human mind-including joint attention, pattern recognition, memory usage, and the emergence of language.   Offering a wide range of approaches and diversity of place and time, the chapters address issues such as skill, social learning, technique, language, and cognition based on lithic technology. Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition will be of interest to Paleolithic archaeologists and paleoanthropologists interested in stone tool technology and cognitive evolution.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-031-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ONE Introduction and Overview
    (pp. 1-12)

    Stone tools are among the most distinctive features of the lives and evolution of hominins and, through them, material culture came to play an increasingly important role in the behavior of our ancestors. As a result, material culture and stone tools in particular have given archaeologists a window onto behaviors and lifeways that have long since disappeared. Although stone tools were initially studied primarily as indicators of cultural achievements and then of technology and subsistence strategies, our understanding of the kinds of information that can be inferred from stone tools has expanded significantly in recent years. This broadening of analysis...

  4. TWO “Grammars of Action” and Stone Flaking Design Space
    (pp. 13-44)

    Experiments conducted by psychologist Patricia Greenfield and her colleagues explored the grammatical strategies of various primates, including monkeys, chimpanzees, bonobos, and human infants (Greenfield 1991, 1998; Greenfield and Schneider 1977; Greenfield, Nelson, and Saltzman 1972). The research demonstrated that human children consistently employ three strategies for ordering utterances and motor actions, referred to collectively as “grammars of action.” Primate experiments showed that grammars of action applied by chimpanzees and children are initially similar, followed by an ontogenetic divergence by children. The authors concluded that more complex grammars of action evolved after the divergence from a common ancestor. Greenfield emphasized utterances...

  5. THREE Insights on the Technical Competence of the Early Oldowan
    (pp. 45-66)

    Oldowan industries older than 2 million years ago (mya) were first documented during the 1970s. Leaving aside the KBS industry from Koobi Fora—originally dated to 2.6 mya but then revised to be no older than 1.8 mya (Gleadow 1980; McDougall et al. 1980)—further sites were discovered in the 1970s for which a Pliocene chronology was proposed, such as those from Omo (Chavaillon 1970, 1976; Merrick 1976; Merrick et al. 1973) and the Gona sites (Corvinus 1975; Corvinus and Roche 1980). For more than twenty years, these sites were considered to represent a first rudimentary attempt by hominins to...

  6. FOUR Growing Up in the Middle Pleistocene: Life History Strategies and Their Relationship to Acheulian Industries
    (pp. 67-82)

    From a life history perspective, it is possible to argue that the Middle Pleistocene was one of the most dramatic periods in human evolution. Paradoxically, the Acheulian industries that dominate the Middle Pleistocene record over large areas of Eurasia and Africa are often described as “monotonous” or “stagnant” (Isaac 1972, 1976, inter alia). In this chapter we discuss alterations in life history strategies that characterize the Middle Pleistocene and consider their relationship to patterning in the Acheulian. Our conclusions are preliminary and speculative but aim to address one of the more intriguing elements of the “Muddle in the Middle.”


  7. FIVE How Levallois Reduction Is Similar to, and Not Similar to, Playing Chess
    (pp. 83-104)

    In this chapter we argue that Levallois reduction is an example of expert performance, indistinguishable in its basic organization from expert performance in the modern world. As such, it relies on a cognitive ability known as long-term working memory, in which retrieval structures held in long-term memory, but activated in working memory, enable rapid access to larger bodies of procedural and declarative knowledge. We focus on Levallois for two reasons. First, through the work of Van Peer (1992, 1995), Boëda (1994, 1995), Chazan (1997), Schlanger (1990, 1996), and others, the chaînes opératoires of Levallois are now well-described and understood, providing...

  8. SIX On Standardization in the Paleolithic: Measures, Causes, and Interpretations of Metric Similarity in Stone Tools
    (pp. 105-134)

    The potential for “standardization” in the shapes of Paleolithic artifacts, with its many implications for the cognitive and linguistic capacities of early hominids, has excited much discussion among paleoanthropologists. Considerations of artifact standardization fall into two main groups: those focusing on final forms of artifacts (morphological standardization), and those concentrating on techniques and methods of production (procedural standardization). Some authors assert that a high degree of morphological similarity among certain early Paleolithic artifacts—Acheulian bifaces in particular—demonstrates the existence of culturally, perhaps even symbolically transmitted “norms” of artifact design (Gowlett 1984, 1987; Hopkinson and White 2005; Wynn 1985, 1995)....

  9. SEVEN Middle Stone Age Stone Tools from Klasies River Main Site and Symbolic Cognition
    (pp. 135-158)

    The Klasies River main site, situated on the southern Cape Coast of South Africa (Figure 7.1) (Deacon 1995; Singer and Wymer 1982) consists of a complex of caves (Caves 1, 1A, 1B, 2) that collectively contain the evidence of the lifeways of humans that lived between 120,000 and 60,000 years ago. The original deposit of twenty-one meters was much eroded by a rise in sea level around 6,000 years ago, but the remnant still produced a very large archaeological sample. J. Wymer carried out extensive excavations in 1967/68 and published the results in the 1982 monograph The Middle Stone Age...

  10. EIGHT Possible Relations between Language and Technology in Human Evolution
    (pp. 159-184)

    Complex tool use and language are distinguishing characteristics of the human species. For this reason alone, it is tempting to posit evolutionary connections between them. For archaeologists, the possibility that Paleolithic stone tools might shed light on language evolution is even more appealing. But are human language and tool use really related in any more meaningful way than that both are products of an expanded hominin brain (Hewes 1994)? Everyday experience does not suggest obvious links between the two. In fact, stereotypes like the bumbling professor or the hopelessly confusing some-assembly-required instruction manual suggest exactly the opposite. Archaeologists considering this...

  11. NINE Stone Tools and the Evolution of Hominin and Human Cognition
    (pp. 185-206)

    My present approach to stone tools and cognition was developed in 2003 during a research project titled Precursors to Culture at the Collegium Budapest led by Richard Byrne. Byrne has recorded the sequence of actions routinely engaged in, in the wild, by a gorilla he called Flossie to avoid the painful sting of nettle leaves as she ate them. As a matter of routine during the process of removing leaves from a stem and eating them, she folds the leaves over themselves to conceal the stings and she does so with precise individual movements and repetition of the sequence of...

  12. TEN Current Developments in Inferring Cognitive Capabilities from the Archaeological Traces Left by Stone Tools: Caught between a Rock and a Hard Inference
    (pp. 207-226)

    When observing or touching a stone tool made many hundreds of thousands of years ago, it is hard to imagine anyone not experiencing at least some intellectual curiosity, wonderment, and perhaps even other emotions about the nature of the minds and lives of the species that made it. For non-experts in archaeology, such as myself, dangers abound from that point forward since many of the key arguments have already been well rehearsed by the experts with their deep knowledge of lithics and the accompanying evidence of forms, be they imposed or otherwise; their distributional properties over time; and the strategies...

  13. List of Contributors
    (pp. 227-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-234)