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What Stimulated Rapid, Cumulative Innovation After 100,000 Years Ago?

Abstract

Imagination and innovation are likely stimulated through the intersection of brain power, motor skill and social need. Through time, escalating creativity may have influenced cognition and social interactions, creating a feedback situation that also implicated demography. Such reciprocal interactions between technology, cognition and society may have motivated the accumulation of innovations that are particularly visible in the archaeological record after 100,000 years ago (not as a revolution, but incrementally). Raw materials also played a role because they are not passive; intense interaction with objects reflexively stimulates human imagination and creativity. Archaeological evidence for material culture items that appear to embody imagination is present before the appearance of Homo sapiens. The implication is that imagination is not the sole preserve of people like us; nonetheless, H. sapiens took imaginative expressions to new heights after about 100,000 years ago. Perforated and ochre-covered marine shells were found in early modern human burials and living sites and thereafter more material culture items convey imagination. Shell beads were strung to form a variety of patterns, and engraved ostrich eggshells, engraved ochre, worked bone and hundreds of pieces of utilised ochre have been widely found. Innovation, imagination and complex cognition are also conveyed in the manufacture of everyday objects used for subsistence activities.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Profs Lombard and Högberg for inviting me to participate in this special volume even though I was not a participant at the symposium. This paper was inspired by the CARTA symposium Origins of Imagination at the Salk Institute in June 2018, and I am grateful to CARTA for enabling my participation in the symposium.

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Wadley, L. What Stimulated Rapid, Cumulative Innovation After 100,000 Years Ago?. J Archaeol Method Theory 28, 120–141 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-020-09499-y

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Keywords

  • Imagination
  • Reflexivity
  • Cognition
  • Social interaction
  • Technology
  • Stone Age/Palaeolithic