The Nature of Culture

Part of the series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology pp 135-146


Mountaineering or Ratcheting? Stone Age Hunting Weapons as Proxy for the Evolution of Human Technological, Behavioral and Cognitive Flexibility

  • Marlize LombardAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of JohannesburgWallenberg Research Centre, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), Stellenbosch University Email author 

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Cultural, behavioral and cognitive evolution is often seen as cumulative and sometimes referred to in terms of a ratchet or the ratchet effect . In this contribution, I assess the value of the ratchet analogy as blanket explanation for the above aspects of human evolution . I use Stone Age weapon technologies as proxy for the evolution of human technological, behavioral and cognitive flexibility , and by doing so show that the ratchet analogy falls short of explaining human variability and complexity as reflected in the Stone Age archaeological record. Considering human cultural, behavioral and cognitive evolution from a theoretically constructed rugged landscape point of view, I suggest that mountaineering may be a more suitable analogy for the accumulation of human culture. In this scenario, culture and technology anchor societies within their respective evolutionary trajectories and fitness landscapes , and it more accurately reflects humans as ‘masters of flexibility’.


Projectile technology Bow-and-arrow Spear Spearthrower-and-dart Cumulative culture Cognition Fitness landscapes