Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 1–70 | Cite as

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

  • Francesco d'Errico
  • Christopher Henshilwood
  • Graeme Lawson
  • Marian Vanhaeren
  • Anne-Marie Tillier
  • Marie Soressi
  • Frédérique Bresson
  • Bruno Maureille
  • April Nowell
  • Joseba Lakarra
  • Lucinda Backwell
  • Michèle Julien


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.

bone tools symbolism music language Neandertals 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesco d'Errico
    • 1
  • Christopher Henshilwood
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Graeme Lawson
    • 5
  • Marian Vanhaeren
    • 1
  • Anne-Marie Tillier
    • 6
  • Marie Soressi
    • 1
  • Frédérique Bresson
    • 6
  • Bruno Maureille
    • 6
  • April Nowell
    • 7
  • Joseba Lakarra
    • 8
  • Lucinda Backwell
    • 9
  • Michèle Julien
    • 10
  1. 1.UMR 5808 of the CNRS, Institut de Préhistoire et de Géologie du QuaternaireUniversité Bordeaux ITalenceFrance
  2. 2.GardensAfrican Heritage Research InstituteCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.University of BergenBergenNorway
  4. 4.SUNY at Stony BrookStony Brook
  5. 5.McDonald Institute of Archaeological ResearchUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUnited Kingdom
  6. 6.Laboratoire d'Anthropologie des Populations du PasséUniversité Bordeaux ITalenceFrance
  7. 7.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  8. 8.Department of Basque Philology, Facultad de Filología, Geografía e Historia, Campus de AlavaC/Paseo de la UniversidadVitoriaSpain
  9. 9.Palaeo-Anthropology Unit for Research and Exploration, School of Earth SciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  10. 10.UMR 7041, équipe d'Ethnologie Préhistorique, 21 Allée de l'UniversitéMaison René GinouvésNanterre Cedex, ParisFrance

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