Origins of Modern Human Behavior

Session Date: 
Apr 13, 2012

What constitutes the essential behavior of our species is contentious. Evolutionary scenarios leading to both the capacity for and practice of these essential behaviors are even more debated. Genetics, cognitive and evolutionary psychology, morphology, reconstructions of climate variation, and the archaeology of human behavior all provide pathways to explore these questions. Furthermore, the newly published genomic studies of our extinct sister species, Neandertals and Denisovans, together with the archaeology, morphology and paleogeography of the former, provide a comparative framework for understanding the antiquity of some of these unique aspects of our species behavior, as well as the conditions under which these behaviors were favored. While we can document increasing cultural complexity in Africa after 100,000 years ago, leading ultimately to an out-of-Africa migration that largely overwhelmed the existing archaic species of Eurasia, was this due to a sudden genetic mutation or was it the ratcheting up of an earlier trajectory towards greater behavioral and emergent cultural complexity? When and where can we document in archaeology the existence of an ability to build innovation on the framework of earlier inventions, which must underlie the cultural trajectory documented in the last 100,000 years? Two of the biggest mysteries are the evolution of large brain size in the Middle Pleistocene and the behavioral innovation of spoken language. Is one of these related to the other? This presentation will review the evidence for the accumulation of distinctive human behaviors in a comparative framework.

File 2012_04_13_24107_Brooks.mp4170.24 MB