Cultural Evolution in Africa and Eurasia During the Middle and Late Pleistocene

  • Nicholas Conard
Living reference work entry


This chapter examines large-scale patterns of behavioral change that are often viewed as indicators for the advent of cultural modernity and developed symbolic communication. Using examples from Africa and Eurasia, the chapter reviews patterns of lithic and organic technology, subsistence, and settlement as potential indicators of modern behavior. These areas of research produce a mosaic picture of advanced technology and behavioral patterns that come and go during the late Middle and Late Pleistocene. Based on these data the emergence of modern behavior, as seen in the archaeologically visible material record, appears to be gradual and heterogeneous in space and time. During the early part of the Late Pleistocene, personal ornaments in the form of perforated seashells are documented in southwestern Asia and northern and southern Africa. By about 40,000 years ago (Ka), a diverse array of personal ornaments are documented across the Old World in association with Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. These include both modified natural objects and fully formed ornaments. The timing and distribution of the appearance of figurative art, mythical imagery, and other classes of artifacts including musical instruments point to a more punctuated development of fully modern behavior during the middle of the Late Pleistocene and certainly no later than 40 Ka. Due perhaps in part to the long and intense history of research, much, but by no means all, of the relevant data come from Europe. Early figurative art from the Aurignacian of southwestern Germany, northern Italy, Austria, and southern France provides undisputed evidence for fully developed symbolic communication and behavioral modernity. This chapter also discusses some of the hypotheses for the development and spread of cultural modernity and rejects a strict monogenetic model in favor of a pattern of mosaic polycentric development. This chapter highlights the need for new refutable, regional and superregional hypotheses for the advent and spread of behavioral modernity.


Late Pleistocene Modern Human Cultural Modernity Lithic Assemblage Symbolic Communication 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Eberhard-Karls-Universität TübingenInstitut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Abteilung Ältere Urgeschichte und QuartärökologieTübingenGermany

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