Biological Theory

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 78–88 | Cite as

Signs and Symbolic Behavior

  • Peter Godfrey-SmithEmail author
Thematic Issue Article: Symbols, Signals, and the Archaeological Record


Research in archaeology and anthropology on the evolution of modern patterns of human behavior often makes use of general theories of signs, usually derived from semiotics. Recent work generalizing David Lewis’ 1969 model of signaling provides a better theory of signs than those currently in use. This approach is based on the coevolution of behaviors of sign production and sign interpretation. I discuss these models and then look at applications to human prehistoric behavior, focusing on body ornamentation, tools, and other artifacts.


Archaeology Communication Meaning Prehistory Sender–receiver model Symbols 



Thanks to all the participants at the 2012 “Symbols, Signals and the Archaeological Record” workshop at the Australian National University, and to the City University of New York for research support. Helpful comments on an earlier draft were provided by Peter Hiscock, Steven Kuhn, Jane Sheldon, Kim Sterelny, and Mary Stiner.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Program, The Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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