Modern Behavioral Traits

Topics: ArtSymbolism


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Last updated: October 5, 2019

Defining behavioral modernity depends on the consideration that behaviorally modern traits are based off of records derived from Western Europe during the Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic eras (Nowell 2010: 440). Therefore, they are not universal and there has been considerable protest against applying them universally because these traits do not hold true for Africa at this same time period. It is because of this distinction that this paper will focus on behavioral modernity in the genus Homo as directly associated with the application of symbolic behaviors and technological innovativeness.McBrearty and Brooks (2000) suggest that behavior drove the anatomical changes seen in the archaeological record, and that behaviors developed gradually over time and space.

They list four characteristics that are inherently modern behaviors: [1] Abstract thinking, the ability to act with reference to abstract concepts not limited in time or space. [2] Planning depth, the ability to formulate strategies based on past experience and to act upon them in a group context. [3] Behavioral, economic and technological innovativeness. 4] Symbolic behavior, the ability to represent objects, people, and abstract concepts with arbitrary symbols, vocal or visual, and to reify such symbols in cultural practice [McBrearty & Brooks 2000:492]. It is this last trait (symbolic behavior) that the majority of scholars define as modern behavior (Nowell 2010: 441), however some like Mellars (1989) place emphasis on technological innovativeness. The archaeological evidence of these traits can be divided into four groups: ecology, technology, economic and social organization, and symbolic behavior.Ecology consists of extending range usage and increasing diet breadth.

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Technology consists of “use of new materials such as bone, standardization of tool forms, evidence of hafting, and composite tools; the development of specialized tools” (Nowell 2010: 440). Economic and social organization would include long distance trading. Symbolic behavior includes personal adornment, art, “and burials with grave goods” (Nowell 2010: 440). Tangible evidence in the archaeological record support the behavioral shifts toward modernity mentioned above.Ties to “hominid cognitive and cultural capabilities” (McBrearty & Brooks 2000: 492) further evidential support. To support the statement above a discussion on the development of these traits is necessary.

Planning depth is demonstrated through emergence of abilities such as manipulating new environments to perceived needs while combined use of technological features demonstrates inventiveness and logical thinking. Symbolic features imbue meaning to abstract concepts and experiences. Other economic and social features demonstrate the ability to draw on experience, both group and individual.These experiences aid in the formulation of constructing formalized relationships, and understanding, as well as, predicting the future. Technological Innovativeness The greatest piece of technology associated with the development of modern humans is stone tools. Homo sapiens introduced tools to the European Upper Paleolithic when they migrated to Europe.

Stone tools are considered a key ingredient in the “Human Revolution Model”. “In South Africa, the makers of MSA industries routinely manufactured blades from a variety of core types.This technology was clearly in place by 120kya, but its beginnings are poorly constrained temporally” (McBrearty and Brooks 2000: 495). During the African MSA, many regional point styles are represented, and in tropical areas predate those of Europe. In addition to the use of stone tools, MSA people had greater planning depth and intensified their use of resources.

There was a progressive expansion in diet breadth between MSA and LSA, as a response to increased population. Through the proliferation of stone tools throughout history overtime they become specialized.April Nowell presents Mellars (1989: 340-45) argument emphasizing technological innovativeness, listing the following traits: A transition from flake to blade technologies, the appearance of specialized tool types such as burins and endscrapers, the rapid proliferation of novel tool types, the extensive use of artifacts from nonlithic materials (e. g.

, bone, antler, ivory), and an increase in the degree of the standardization of tool types” [Nowell 2010: 440]. These changes in tool technology occurred in a multitude of environments, no longer limited to areas near water.Each of Mellars’ traits listed for technological innovativeness occur through specialization of tools. Symbolic Behavior Wadley (2001) believed that it was “symbolic use of space and material culture to define social relationships” (201). Chase (1999, 2001, 2006) agrees with this sentiment and adds that it is at this point when symbolic behaviors affect material culture that the shift is detectable. Symbolic behavior presents in various forms: The creation of art, caring for the ill, and the intentional burial of the dead.

All of these symbolic practices can be evidenced in the archeological record, for example; art is seen in cave drawings. Caring for the ill can be seen in the skeletal record when an individual is shown to have some kind of malformation but lives to a ripe old age. Symbolic burial is seen in the presence of grave goods and other symbols that imply an intentional burial for reasons other than hiding the smell. The earliest evidence for symbolic burial dates to 350,000 years ago, a pink axe.The discovery of this pink axe made of quartzite rock that gives it its distinct color was found in a burial of Homo heidelbergensis in northern Spain. Some theorists do not fully accept this claim of symbolic association because it is possible that the material is secondary deposit, possibly deposited there because of mudflow. If deposited by mudflow than the pink axe is simply another type of tool and not evidence for symbolic thinking.

This evidence suggests that abstract thinking occurred long before previously thought; it was previously believed that abstract thought began with Homo neandertalensis. (Rincon 2003).It is believed that the creation of the pink axe can be viewed as the first evidence of symbolic (ritual) behavior, because of the color; the color was something that was not readily available. In addition to the pink axe there are other examples in the archaeological record supporting abstract or symbolic thought through burials. “In Africa, deliberate burials of Middle Pleistocene hominids are absent. The cut marks on the temporal bone of the Bodo cranium, however, indicate defleshing with a stone tool (White, 1986), and suggest either cannibalism or a post mortem ritualized treatment of the skull” (McBrearty and Brooks 2000: 520).

Overall, symbolic behavior can manifest in many ways; from intentional burials to grave goods to other forms of art and caring for the ill. Conclusion Behavioral modernity in the genus Homo consists of different traits depending on whom you ask. According to McBrearty and Brooks four traits are seen as behaviorally modern: abstract thinking, planning depth, technological innovativeness, and symbolic behavior. These characteristics attributed to modernity by McBrearty and Brooks are in agreement with other scholars; however emphasis varies.In addition, to scholarly thought the archaeological record also supports these characteristics. Technological innovativeness was presented in the context of tool usage as considered one of the main points signifying modern behavior. The other modern behavior for the genus Homo presented here was symbolic behavior.

Symbolic behavior is represented in the archaeological record primarily through burials, in both the representation of grave goods and intentional burial. It has become clear that what we consider behavioral modernity began much further back in history than previously thought.In addition, there is still no consensus on which traits are more important and whether one can be considered behaviorally modern if they posses only some of the traits and not all. Bibliography Chase, P. G.

1999 Symbolism as reference and symbolism as culture. In The Evolution of Culture: An Interdisciplinary View, ed. RIM Dunbar, C Knight, C Power, pp. 34-99. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2001 “Symbolism” is two different phenomena: implications for archaeology and paleontology. In Humanity From African Naissance to Coming in Millennia, Colloquia in Human Biology and Paleoanthropology, ed.

PV Tobias, MA Raath, J Moggi-Cecchi, GA Doyle, pp. 199-212. Florence: Firenze University Press. 2006 The Emergence of Culture: The Evolution of a Uniquely Human Way of Life. New York: Springer Clark, Geoffrey.

2002. Paul Anthony Mellars- an Appreciation. McBrearty, Sally and Brooks, Alison.

2000. The revolution that wasn’t: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 39: 453-563. Mellars, P. 1989 Technological Changes at the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition in south- west France. In The Explanation of Culture-Change, ed.C Renfrew, pp. 255- 76, London: Duckworth.

Novell, April 2010 Defining Behavioral Modernity in the Context of Neandertal and Anatomically Modern Human Populations. Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 437-52. Rincon, Paul 2003 Evidence of Earliest Human Burial. BBC News 26 March. Wadley, L.

2001 What is cultural modernity? A general view and a South African perspective from Rose Cottage Cave. Cambr. Archaeology Journal 11 (2): 201-21. White, T.

D. 1986 Cutmarks on the Bodo cranium: a case of prehistoric defleshing. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 69: 503-509.

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