<< . .

( 38)

. . >>

founding population of Australia to indicate the likely antiquity of this
ability to categorise relationships.
The earliest Australian evidence provides a minimum age for the
intentional separation of people and emphasises that the ability to construct
212 Origins and Revolutions

social life over distance is at least as old as the common ground of the social
technology I discussed in Chapter 7. Human dispersal at this time was
significant. In 60,000 years we changed our status from a suite of genera and
species confined to a part of the Old World to become a global and singular
species for the first time in our evolutionary history. Some 75 per cent of the
surface of the Earth was first settled in 1 per cent of the time that has elapsed
since the chimp-hominin split five million years ago (Gamble 2004).
Although dismissed by some as merely an adaptive radiation rather than a
decisive happening (Renfrew 2001:127) these dispersals, conducted for the
most part by people who fished, hunted and gathered, indicate that a
solution to the problem of maintaining social bonds over time and at
distance had been developed by this time.

The evidence for extension
The social technology involved in such extension was varied. Among
examples of containers the most important were boats. At present these
can only be inferred; for example by the arrival of people in the Pleistocene
continent of Sahul, when low sea levels linked Tasmania, Australia and
Papua New Guinea. An open sea crossing to Sahul was always obligatory
and involved a voyage of at least some 65 km (Gamble 1993a:216). These are
small distances compared to the voyages into the deep Pacific that began
3,500 years ago (Evans 1998; Irwin 1992) in double hulled canoes capable of
carrying 400 people (Davis 1999), their plants and on occasion domestic
Containers in the form of sledges and domestic dogs to pull them may
have been important in the dispersal of people into another Pleistocene
low sea-level continent, Beringia, and from there into North America
(Anderson and Gillam 2000; Fagan 1987; Martin 1973; Meltzer 1993).
Alternatively containers in the form of boats supported a coastal coloni-
sation (Fladmark 1979). However, neither type of container has yet been
found and only more accurately dated sites either on the coast or in the
interior will help decide which route was taken.
A second and more tangible line of evidence comes from the transfer
around the landscape of stone materials. The pattern during much of
technology™s long introduction was for hominins to use local raw materials.
Very little of it is transported more than a few hours walking away from its
geological source.
Gesher Benot Ya™aqov (Goren-Inbar et al. 2000) at 780,000 years old
provides a good example of the local rule. The raw material for the
Did agriculture change the world? 213

manufacture of Acheulean bifaces is basalt found at, or within, 4 km of
the locale in the Jordan rift valley (Madsen and Goren-Inbar 2004:47À8).
The quantities of artefacts, manuports and boulders which were accumu-
lated at the locale were harvested from within only a few km2. The artefacts
have often been described as ˜African™; first on account of the raw material,
which is decidedly un-European, and second for the large and sometimes
giant cores (Madsen and Goren-Inbar 2004) from which flakes were struck
to make bifaces (see Chapter 7).
But the local rule is broken during the later part of technology™s long
introduction. The evidence comes from a number of obsidian (highly
distinctive volcanic glass) artefacts from later hominin locales in the
Kenyan Rift Valley and in Tanzania that have been identified to source
using x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and electron microprobe (EMP). Analyses
revealed that seven pieces of obsidian from the Mumba Rock Shelter in
Northern Tanzania came from 320 km away (Merrick and Brown 1884).
The Bed VI levels where they were found contain stone tools dated
to 100À130,000 years ago (McBrearty and Brooks 2000:515). At Gadeb,
Ethiopia, and Kilombe, Kenya, Acheulean bifaces also made of obsidian
have been transferred from up to 100 km away (Feblot-Augustins
1990). As archaeologists Sally McBrearty and Alison Brooks document
(2000:514À17) there are many examples in both technology™s long
introduction and common ground of stones moving between 100 and
200 km. Numbers are, however, never large and in their African examples
applies to less than 1 per cent, a few pieces, of any stone tool assemblage.
This stone data demonstrates that small numbers of instruments were
commonly transferred over distances that far exceeded any daily foraging
range. What is not known is whether these rare items were passed from
hand to hand, thus enchaining people, or carried by individuals in their
travels and simply thrown away when no longer of any use. Given the
distances involved I favour the former hypothesis (Gamble 1999), which is
also supported by the demonstration that these instruments conform to
a simple rule first established by Jean-Michel Geneste and Alain Turq
(Geneste 1988; 1989; Turq 1990; 1993), and documented more widely
by Jehanne Feblot-Augustins (1997). These archaeologists found that as
distance increased so the type of instrument changed. Those from furthest
away were invariably retouched flakes and blades that could be classified
as shaped tools, often manufactured using the Levallois PCT (Chapter 7;
Geneste 1988). Below a threshold of 20 km from the source of the stone
the proportions were reversed and unmodified flakes and blades as well
as cores and evidence for working nodules dominated (Gamble 1993b).
214 Origins and Revolutions

The obsidian bifaces from Gadeb and Kilombe would be a good example
of how only selected, and on occasion, highly modified instruments were
travelling down these tracks, creating chains of connection as they went
(Mulvaney 1976).

Group size and networks
Extending our social presence is an important aspect of being able to
construct societies of a kind that we would recognise. The social brain
hypothesis put forward by evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar (1992a;
1996; 2003) and bio-anthropologist Leslie Aiello (and Dunbar 1993)
addresses the cognitive implications of this ability and in particular the
impact on group size. The core hypothesis is that our social lives drove the
enlargement of our brains to a size where they are almost three times larger
than expected in a primate of our size (McHenry 1988). Three million years
ago a probable ancestor such as Australopithecus afarensis had a brain of
450 cc (Johanson and Edgar 1996) and today the brain size of Homo sapiens
is nearer 1,500 cc.
The history of brain evolution suggests that it was a mosaic process
(Jerison 1982). The extraordinary encephalisation of humans saw the size of
the brain™s neo-cortex increase significantly faster than other areas. The
neo-cortex is the ˜grey matter™ and as its popular name suggests it is the
thinking part of the brain that stores memories and organises social
relationships. Primates also have large neo-cortices relative to the rest of
their brains and when this ratio is plotted against the mean group size they
live in (Figure 8.1) a strong positive relationship can be seen. As the neo-
cortex ratio increases so too does group size with humans out in front as
might be expected. The correlation between brain size and the size of
groups it can organise lies at the heart of the social brain hypothesis
(Dunbar 2003:169).
But such a massive increase comes at a price. The brain is a very costly
organ using 20 per cent of all our energy intake but only accounting for
2 per cent of our body weight (Aiello and Wheeler 1995). Therefore,
as Dunbar (1998:93) points out, selection for an increase in such an
expensive tissue must have been very strong. Better foraging efficiency
might have provided a strong impetus in spatially and seasonally complex
environments where remembering where food is to be found would be
an advantage (Gibson 1986). But such ecological explanations do not
adequately account for the subsequent exponential rise in brain size.
A more parsimonious hypothesis is that social life drove such dramatic
Did agriculture change the world? 215

figure 8.1. The relationship between the size of the neo-cortex and group size in extant
primates (after Dunbar 1996; 1998). The neo-cortex consists of the frontal, temporal,
parietal and occipital lobes of the brain all of which have expanded dramatically during
hominin evolution.

encephalisation and that the larger group sizes that resulted satisfied a
number of concerns, including increased reproductive choice, security
against predators and psychological well-being.
Among apes and monkeys group size depends on interaction established
through finger-tip grooming and face-to-face contact. For example, Strum
and Latour (1987) describe baboons as competent social actors limited
by their bodies in terms of what they can do. Grooming is the means
by which key social partners are recruited and defined. Moreover, as
the overall group size increases so too does the time spent by any
individual grooming his or her core of intimates. The pay-off for this
time consuming activity, apart from the emotional pleasure grooming
produces, comes at moments of conflict when this support clique will come
to your aid.
216 Origins and Revolutions

table 8.1. Resources and networks (after Gamble 1999:Table 2.8 with
references). Sample descriptors for small-world societies are taken from primate,
anthropological (hunter-gatherers) and sociological literature (for an update and
confirmation of network sizes see Zhou et al. 2005)

Ego based Sample descriptors
network Principal resource Size of modal size
Intimate Emotional affect 3À7 Support clique
Significant others
Nuclear family
Effective Material exchange 10À23 Sympathy group
Colleagues and friends
Minimum band
Local group, Clan
Extended Symbolic ˜positive style™ 100À400 Friends of friends
Dialect tribe, Connubium
Maximum band
Global Symbolic ˜negative style™ 2,500 Non-significant ˜Others™
Linguistic family

Human groups are rather different and you might be surprised from
Figure 8.1 that they are only 150 persons in size. To understand why groups
are this size and not measured in terms of thousands or even millions,
I return to the discussion of Ego based networks (Gamble 1999) that I
introduced in Chapter 5 (see Table 5.5). Four network sizes exist (Table 8.1)
differentiated by the variable use of the three negotiating resources À
emotional, material and symbolic (Turner 1991) À that define them.
As sociologist Robert Milardo (1992:455) comments, the intimate
network with a cross-cultural average size of five has a disproportionate
impact on an individual™s decisions, psychological security and network
building in comparison to ˜the sheer number of people contacted in the
routine business of daily living and the breadth of opportunities they pre-
sent or deny in terms of opportunities for social comparison, companion-
ship and access to scarce resources™. The size of networks varies between
individuals, as might be expected, and also changes with age. But as
Milardo says it is through these relatively small webs, with their social bonds
of variable strength and commitment, that we navigate the limitless
demographic universes of London and New York.
Did agriculture change the world? 217

table 8.2. Community size predictions and language outcomes (adapted from
Dunbar 1993)

Age, millions Representative Group
of years taxon size Communication
<0.1 Modern humans 150 Metaphor and technical
0.3 Neanderthals 120 Socially focused ˜gossip™
<2 100 Vocal chorusing
Homo ergaster
5 Australopithecines 70 Primate grooming

Group size and language
There are cognitive limits to the sizes of networks we can negotiate and
maintain, but what needs organising is the time available for social life.
Time, as Dunbar (1992) shows, is a crucial limiting factor when the per-
formance of social bonds depends on physical grooming and the re-playing
of roles on a daily basis. Among primates none have been observed to spend
more than 20 per cent of the waking day grooming. The rest of the time
is devoted to finding food, caring for infants and eating. This places a limit
on social group size of about 50 (Figure 8.1), clearly well below humans and
predictions from the social brain hypothesis for hominin community sizes
(Table 8.2). Moreover, although several social monkeys do live in much
larger aggregations, they interact on a regular basis only with the smaller
numbers in their sympathy groups.
It is here that the social brain model comes into play. It is concerned
with the limits to group size rather than average group sizes (Dunbar
2003:171). If these thresholds can be accurately documented then they
have evolutionary significance and need explaining. Although the model
does not deal with the varied forms of social organisation (see Foley 1996;
2001a; Foley and Lee 1989; Rodseth et al. 1991) it does address the con-
sequences for the time management of relationships as numbers increase.
The predictions of group size for some hominin species are shown in
Table 8.2 and Figure 8.2.
One inescapable consequence of increasing group size is that the pri-
mate mechanism of regulating relationships by grooming is no longer
possible due to time constraints. With such strong selection for increasingly
dense and complex social communities the development of language
from vocal chorusing is, as Dunbar argues, a strong possibility (Table 8.2).
Words now supplemented fingers as the means to create socially negotiated
218 Origins and Revolutions

figure 8.2. Predictions for group size in fossil hominins (after Dunbar 1993; 1998 and
Aiello and Dunbar 1993). The estimates are based on the neo-cortex/group size ratios
shown in Figure 8.1.

bonds. Language changed the rules by which social bonds were performed.
It provided a vocal means to ˜groom™ a larger number of partners than could
be achieved in the same time by touch. The emphasis in social interaction
shifted from the tactile to the aural in face-to-face gatherings.
When the brain size of fossil hominins is plotted (Figure 8.3) we see that
the primate threshold for performing the social bond by touch grooming was
crossed at least 600,000 years ago indicating a long ancestry for vocal
grooming if not language as we know it with its habitual use of rhetoric
(Table 8.2). At this time the graph predicts group sizes of 120 which rise
eventually to 150. The language that was needed previously depended on
factual gossip À who is doing what with whom À to monitor relationships,
rather than rhetorical devices to account for why they should be in a menage
a trois, and that absence does not always make the heart grow fonder.
While these groups are stable human social units they should not be
thought of as societies. Rather they are networks that we all negotiate and
build in our daily activities and interactions with others. The numbers
correspond to the lower limit of our extended networks (Table 8.1) where we
use symbols such as Christmas cards to sustain a weak social bond when
Did agriculture change the world? 219

figure 8.3. The threshold for the appearance of language among fossil hominins as
predicted by the social brain hypothesis (after Dunbar 2003). Increased group size
(Figure 8.2) exacerbated time constraints on physical grooming as the mechanism of
social bonding. When these reached 30 per cent of the day™s activities language, it is
proposed, emerged to meet the selective pressure for novel forms of communication.

compared to the smaller but more intense networks. These figures also
bring a perspective to the question of how we can live in cities of many
millions or villages of several hundreds. The answer is through modularity,
amalgamating networks of similar size and integrating them into ever larger
units. The hierarchical devices that integrate such sets have been an object
of much archaeological enquiry (e.g. Feinman and Marcus 1998; Flannery
1972a; Johnson 1982; Meskell 2004; Renfrew 1972). In contrast to these
top-down approaches, beginning with the emergence of institutions as
the question, the cognitive and psychological building blocks identified
through the social brain model provide a much needed bottom-up per-
spective on the same issues.

Language, metaphor and mimesis
At the heart of all these debates is the issue of how society is performed.
How exactly do the social actors enrol others in their internal view of social
220 Origins and Revolutions

life and as a result attribute actions to others that are understood by
reference to themselves? In particular, how important are language and
metaphor in these exchanges and the ability to both create and share
representations? In his multi-faceted approach to this question, Dan
Sperber (1996:1) has asked why some ideas are contagious, a process he
describes as an epidemiology of representations that links the micro-scale of
the individual to the macro-scale of society, whatever its numbers and
complexity of institutions. Belonging in such social situations is established
metaphorically. As Sperber explains, ˜a representation involves a relation-
ship between three terms; an object is a representation of something,
for some information-processing device™ (ibid.:61). That device can be a
human individual engaged in creating networks for action and pursuing
material projects.
Anthropologist Chris Knight (1991; 1998) has studied these questions with
reference to the ways in which collective rituals based on trust emerge
between a speaker and listener and enable both to share in these internal
fictions. What supports these inventions is a false statement, a metaphor,
because who has ever seen, for example, a dreaming spire or a shadow
crossing the mind? Our existence as a ceremonial animal (James 2003)
nicely encapsulates our immersion in these fictions and their resolution
through rituals and performances À exactly the distinction that Strum and
Latour (1987) draw between the complex societies of the primates and
complicated human social constructions. Apes engage in tactical deception
(Byrne and Whiten 1988) but not in metaphorical expressions of that aspect
of social intelligence.
I should, however, qualify this last statement. The majority of research on
metaphor, social intelligence and how society is represented among
hominids is treated as a question about language. This is hardly surprising.
Language is so clearly important either as a technique of vocal grooming
or providing a flight of fancy through wonderland. As we saw in earlier
chapters the experiences of the body have their place but even here, as
philosopher Peter Carruthers (2002) has shown, there is still a lively debate
concerning the necessity of language for thought, those internal conversa-
tions we have with ourselves. He is also sceptical of the assertion that
language is needed to make conscious propositions À what others would
call discursive consciousness, as opposed to practical consciousness where
habit accounts for action (Gamble 1999:81; Giddens 1984; Leroi-Gourhan
1993:231À2). Although spoken language is important in this regard
Carruthers does not see this function as its main cognitive role. Instead
he favours the importance of language in integrating the outputs from a
Did agriculture change the world? 221

wide variety of embodied conceptual faculties; vision, hearing, touch and
smell. Such co-ordination is not regarded as unique to humans but was
shared with other hominins. For example, using a segmented model of the
mind archaeologist Steven Mithen (1996:67) has argued that language
allowed multiple connections not only between these familiar sensory
domains but also with the integration of dedicated intelligence domains
that deal with such concerns as technology, natural history, social life and
language. To these four intelligences he adds a fifth, general intelligence,
that preceded them. The evolution of the mind as opposed to the brain has,
in Mithen™s opinion, involved forging strong relationships between the
general and specialised intelligences in ever more creative ways. Mithen
(ibid.:70) refers to this as cognitive fluidity while Jerry Fodor (1985:4), the
architect of the theory of modular mind, regards it as the mind™s passion for
analogy. While such approaches may be overly modular in dividing up
areas of cognition and experience it serves as a powerful heuristic device to
understand what the brain achieves in relating inputs to unexpected
outputs, and that is the essence of metaphor.
A social brain, as opposed to a social intelligence that is common to many
animals, is therefore about making connections, establishing bonds.
Psychologist Merlin Donald (1991; 1998), who prefers a domain-general
to modular model of how the brain works, has proposed that prior to
language as defined above there existed a mimetic style of thought and
communication. Significantly, he regards this, and not the much later
development of spoken language, as our key skill. Mimesis is the ˜ability to
model the whole body, including all its voluntary action-systems, in three
dimensional space (Donald 1998:49)™. A mimetic style of thought was,
in Donald™s view, a necessary platform for language and preceded it by
some distance. What it boils down to is the principle of similarity (ibid.:61)
measured through the full range of the senses. This principle links actions
to their referents that are stored within the body-whole. And when it comes
to communicating this information to others the social actor can call on
what Donald terms an ˜implementable action metaphor (1998:61)™, that is
familiar to us (Chapter 4) from body techniques and the rhythms and
gestures that structure everyday life. Mimesis produces conformity that in
terms of action metaphors is often described as routinisation or habituation.
Studies of technology have recognised the immensely stable production of
particular artefact forms, for example the Acheulean biface that lasts,
essentially unchanged, for over a million years. It is the classic example of
tendance (Lemonnier 1993:26; Leroi-Gourhan 1993), the canalisation of
techniques and forms that would be expected to vary considerably over such
222 Origins and Revolutions

time periods and across the grain of ecological variation, if functional
adaptation alone was determining design.

Learning to think through emotions
What I take away from this brief discussion of language evolution is the
proposal that there are other ways of thinking that involve the body and
technology in constructing metaphors of what society is. This proposal is of
course provisional, as is everything written about language and in particular
its origins (see for example the commentaries on Carruthers 2002), but
arising from it are issues regarding the ways in which these metaphors are
not only communicated but learned. I have already addressed the first of
these by looking at performance spaces (Chapter 6), the body (Chapter 5)
and in particular the symbolic force (Chapter 4) that underpins my

<< . .

( 38)

. . >>

Copyright Design by: Sunlight webdesign