Tag Archives: France

New Book. New Ideas?

A new book is to be published on May the 24th. By John F. Hoffecker the book is entitled “Landscape of the Mind: Human Evolution and the Archaeology of Thought” – it aims to look at the emergence of human thought and language through archaeological evidence

Archeologists often struggle to find fossil evidence pertaining to the evolution of the brain. Thoughts are a hard thing to fossilize. However, John Hoffecker claims that this is not the case and fossils and archaeological evidence for the evolution of the human mind are abundant.

Hoffecker has developed a concept which he calls the “super-brain” which he hypothesises emerged in Africa some 75,000 years ago. He claims that human’s ability to share thoughts between individuals is analogous to the abilities of honey bees who are able to communicate the location of food both in terms of distance and direction. They do this using a waggle-dance. Humans are able to share thoughts between brains using communicative methods, the most obvious of these being language.

Fossil evidence for the emergence of speech is thin on the ground and, where it does exist, is quite controversial. However, symbols emerging in the archaeological record coincides with an increase in evidence of creativity being displayed in many artifacts from the same time. Creative, artistic designs scratched on mineral pigment show up in Africa about 75,000 years ago and are thought to be evidence for symbolism and language

Hoffecker also hypothesises that his concept of the super-brain is likely to be connected to things like bipedalism and tool making. He claims that it was tool making which helped early humans first develop the ability to represent complex thoughts to others.

He claims that tools were a consequence of bipedalism as this freed up the hands to make and use tools. Hoffecker pin points his “super-brain” as beginning to emerge 1.6 million years ago when the first hand axes began to appear in the fossil record. This is because hand axes are thought to be an external realisation of human thought as they bear little resemblance to the natural objects they were made from.

By 75,00 years ago humans were producing perforated shell ornaments, polished bone awls and simple geometric designs incised into lumps of red ochre.

Humans are known to have emerged from Africa between 60,00 to 50,000 years ago based on archeological evidence. Hoeffecker hypothesises that – “Since all languages have basically the same structure, it is inconceivable to me that they could have evolved independently at different times and places.”

Hoeffecker also lead a study in 2007 that discovered a carved piece of mammoth ivory that appears to be the head of a small figurine dating to more than 40,000 years ago. This is claimed to be the oldest piece of figurative art ever discovered. Finds like this illustrate the creative mind of humans as they spread out of Africa.

Figurative art and musical instruments which date back to before 30,000 years ago have also been discovered in caves in France and Germany.

This looks to be nothing new but archaeological evidence is something which a lot of people interested in language evolution do not often discuss. I also don’t really know what to think of Hoeffecker’s claim that “all languages basically have the same structure”. What do you think?

Some Links #5

The returns on homogeneity Razib Kahn writes about the potential costs of  the world having diversity in its languages, instead of just one. He also asks: “The extreme linguistic diversity of less developed regions of the world, or even 18th century France and Italy, is probably detrimental to economic growth and economies of scale, but do diminishing returns kick in at some point?” I’m not too sure where my thoughts lie on this, as I’ve never really thought about it before, which, for me at least, is always the sign of a good blog post. Of course, the economic woes or pros will be negated once the universal translator is made…

Cultural Induction is hard Sean Roberts offers a very thought-provoking post about cultural induction. A week or so ago he ran a little experiment on Facebook, with the explicit aim of looking at Welsh Mutations and agreements between Welsh-speaking individuals in regards to simple sentences. All this fits into a larger picture, with Sean arguing, quite persuasively, that “cultural induction may not be easier than learning about the natural world if everybody is doing something different.”

Cultural Evolution I tend to think I write fairly in-depth posts about cultural evolution, but it appears Bill Benzon over at New Savanna has dethroned me with a knock out tome of posts. These include one on language games, which, in the spirit of being completely honest, I haven’t yet had chance to completely read. I think a New Savanna day is due at some point next week.

Simon Jenkins writes something stupid, and in doing so invites a whole number of science bloggers to have their very own spoof Jenks day, in which (apparently) evil boffins seek revenge.

A new Papua tribe is discovered. Numbering around 3000 the tribe will surely be of interest to field linguists. They also apparently live in trees and run around completely naked (apart from banana leaves covering their private parts).

Culture as an evolutionary phenomenon. An interesting lecture by Rob Boyd over at the ICCI’s website.