Homo Novus – A Human Without Illusions

Part of the series The Frontiers Collection pp 193-211


The Origins of Symbolic Culture

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Symbolic culture is a realm of patently false signals. From a Darwinian standpoint, it is not easy to explain how strategies of reliance on such signals could have become evolutionarily stable. The archaeological record shows evolving modern humans investing heavily in cosmetics, with a particular emphasis on ochre pigments matching the color of blood. This chapter discusses the Female Cosmetic Coalitions model of the origins of symbolic culture in the context of hypotheses sometimes considered to be alternative explanations. It is shown that these various hypotheses are not genuine alternatives. Many are not Darwinian, while others either fail to address the question of symbolism or address it but make no reference to details of the archaeological record. It is concluded that the Female Cosmetic Coalitions model offers the most testable and parsimonious way of integrating these different perspectives.