, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 1-70

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

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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.