Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language.

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Morgan, T J H; Uomini, N T; Rendell, L E; Chouinard-Thuly, L; Street, S E; Lewis, H M; Cross, C P; Evans, C; Kearney, R; de la Torre, I; Whiten, A; Laland, K N
Year of Publication: 2015
Journal: Nat Commun
Volume: 6
Pagination: 6029
Date Published: 2015
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 2041-1723
Keywords: Adult, Animals, Biological Evolution, Communication, Hominidae, Humans, Language, Paleontology, Social Behavior, Teaching, Tool Use Behavior, Verbal Learning

Hominin reliance on Oldowan stone tools-which appear from 2.5 mya and are believed to have been socially transmitted-has been hypothesized to have led to the evolution of teaching and language. Here we present an experiment investigating the efficacy of transmission of Oldowan tool-making skills along chains of adult human participants (N=184) using five different transmission mechanisms. Across six measures, transmission improves with teaching, and particularly with language, but not with imitation or emulation. Our results support the hypothesis that hominin reliance on stone tool-making generated selection for teaching and language, and imply that (i) low-fidelity social transmission, such as imitation/emulation, may have contributed to the ~700,000 year stasis of the Oldowan technocomplex, and (ii) teaching or proto-language may have been pre-requisites for the appearance of Acheulean technology. This work supports a gradual evolution of language, with simple symbolic communication preceding behavioural modernity by hundreds of thousands of years.

DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7029
Alternate Journal: Nat Commun