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parts of Eurasia
9. First evidence for human population densities approaching those of historic
hunter-gatherers in similar environments
10. First evidence for fishing and for other significant advances in human
ability to acquire energy from nature

a full ten-point list, comparable to the one Childe proposed for the Urban
Revolution (Table 1.2) could be published (Table 2.4).
But why did this particular conception of a Human Revolution appear
now, in the thirty years between the discoveries at Omo and Herto? One
answer takes us back to the continuity backlash to the notion of the
Neolithic Revolution as set out in the previous chapter. The challenge of
Eric Higgs and others had a lasting, although unexpected result, on earlier
research into human origins. By loosening up the cultural framework they
indirectly suggested an earlier, missing revolution within the Palaeolithic.
Their argument that the Neolithic was not a revolution, but instead a point
in a continuous story of greater economic control over resources that
ran from scavenging to factory farming, freed up the question of when we
became human. Consequently, those terms ˜savagery™ and ˜barbarism™
(Chapter 1) with their economic links to hunting and farming barely
made it into the 1960s (Sherratt 1997b:62). Higgs, I am sure, would find
it ironic that by telling us we were wasting our time looking for the origins
of agriculture he was creating the conditions for a new origins question
The Human Revolution 45

to emerge. Doubly ironic, because the question which emerged took as its
arena the replacement in Europe and the Middle East of Neanderthals and
their Middle Palaeolithic tool kits by anatomically modern humans and
their Upper Palaeolithic artefacts (Mellars 1996). Higgs™ view that
˜the economies of Palaeolithic peoples remain unstudied, largely because
of the unwarranted assumption that all men were then hunter/gatherers™
(Higgs and Jarman 1969:40), was extended to Neanderthals and
Cro-Magnons alike. He made no distinction on the basis of tool types
or skulls between these populations. Economy was the only thing that
mattered and he was as content to have Neanderthals domesticating
mammoths for their wool as reindeer pulling Magdalenian sleighs around
the Dordogne a mere 15,000 years ago (Eric Higgs pers.comm. c. 1970).
Such an idiosyncratic critique of the Neolithic Revolution did stir-up
thinking about the transition to humanity and the possibility of an
additional archaeological revolution. For example, Ofer Bar-Yosef (2002:
379À81) draws parallels between the Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic
Revolutions in Southwest Asia. His approach is based on comparable
geographical opportunities in the narrow Levantine corridor, increases in
population size and subsequent movement to disperse the results of social
and economic change (Bar-Yosef 1998; 2002). His approach decouples the
arguments for change from an emphasis on the importance of biology
(new species) and changes in past climate (Bar-Yosef 2002:383). The result
is an evolutionary convergence in both revolutions. The outcomes were
different although the starting conditions, at least in terms of geography,
were similar.
But not everyone is convinced by the need for a revolution and the
dissent has been greatest among those working in Africa. The attack is
twofold. First, they have called into question the European-ness of the
Human Revolution. The Upper Palaeolithic revolution, and the replace-
ment of Neanderthals by modern humans is, they argue, a provincial
concern and should not be extended out to the rest of the world
(Henshilwood and Marean 2003; McBrearty and Brooks 2000). For
example, Hilary Deacon (1995:128) claims that European criteria for
cultural modernity, such as Upper Palaeolithic art and ornament, are
irrelevant in the context of the African origins of modern behaviour.
The African evidence he cites as critical includes, among other aspects,
spatial rules of cleanliness, colour symbolism and the reciprocal exchange
of artefacts (Wadley 2001:204). Second, the critics point out that Africa has
consistently produced earlier examples of items in Klein™s check-list than
Europe or anywhere else for that matter.
46 Origins and Revolutions

Now a second front has been opened up by the Europeans themselves,
questioning the inferences drawn from the archaeology of the late
Neanderthals who may, just conceivably, have encountered incoming
modern humans. Although notions of hybrid populations have been
dropped (Darte et al. 1999), the idea that objects such as beads and bone
tools were independently invented by Neanderthals rather than imitated
from what they saw round the necks of incoming modern humans or even
accepted as the price for a continent, like glass beads for Manhattan, has
gained strength (d™Errico et al. 2003; d™Errico et al. 1998; Zilhao and
d™Errico 1999).
Francesco D™Errico (2003) in particular has strongly criticised the
definitions of behavioural modernity (e.g. Table 2.2) that African archae-
ologists use. He shows that most of the defining traits are seen among
Neanderthals in Europe and the Near East. Following this demonstration
he then develops a model of convergent evolution (Conway-Morris 2003).
He argues that common ecological pressures, combined with permeable
cultural barriers, led to the separate development of those distinctive
ornaments and visual culture around which so much of the debate over
behavioural modernity revolves. To account for the European creative
outburst he suggests that:
the new situation involving contact between anatomically modern people
and Neanderthals and the consequent problems of cultural and biological
identity . . . stimulated an explosion in the production of symbolic objects
on both sides.
(d™Errico 2003:196)

But while he scores a double hit, disposing of both the Human
Revolution and primacy for Africa, or any other geographical area for
that matter, this model still falls short as an explanation for change. What
exactly are those common ecological pressures that stretched across the
Old World? And if barriers were permeable to this degree then why was
the response to crank out more symbolic objects to keep up with the
thoroughly modern Joneses? Arguing from the European evidence, Mellars
(2005) unequivocally shows that such convergence is an impossible
A satisfactory explanation is similarly lacking in John Lindly and
Geoff Clark™s (1990) re-positioning of the European creative explosion
from its traditional position 40,000 years ago to half that age and long
after the Neanderthals had disappeared. They argue for low level sym-
bolism in all hominins up to 20,000 years ago; a date they regard as
The Human Revolution 47

a significant behavioural Rubicon (Clark 1992a:197) because of the
quantity of visual culture that is now found, for example the cave art of
France and Cantabrian Spain (Leroi-Gourhan 1968). Their argument
is very reminiscent of the sedentary revolution that we encountered in
Chapter 1; the moment when we became properly human because of
increased and novel material output. But their explanation is disap-
pointing since it relies on a form of cultural intensification that just
seems to happen at this time. Paul Mellars™ response to their paper
highlights their weakness in arguing from hindsight and without an
explanatory framework. He points out (1990:246) that dismissing the
significance of far more radical innovations such as representational art
(Table 2.4) at the beginning of the European Upper Palaeolithic is akin to
dismissing the Neolithic, because things became even more complex in the
Bronze Age.
With the focus on Africa rather than Europe it does indeed seem that this
was, as McBrearty and Brooks (2000) argue, ˜the revolution that wasn™t™.
What they prefer is an extended version of continuity with the slow
accretion of significant traits (Figure 2.2) over a very long time-scale. Rather
than a revolution they favour a gradual unfolding of modern traits and
Africa, as the current evidence shows, is the place to look (Henshilwood and
Marean 2003; Wadley 2001). But exactly how we will recognise modern
behaviours, if we have not already specified what they are, is unclear.
It seems we are to know modern humans not only by what they did but by
what they chose not to do, as long as this was in Africa. McBrearty and
Brooks™ conclusion is that behavioural modernity is African in origin if it
can be said to originate anywhere. But they are less forthcoming with an
explanation other than that the pattern points to cultural intensification.
But why and how is not addressed. Theirs is very much an argument based
on timetables and does not deal with issues of change. The timetables are
not disputed: Africa came first with many of the innovations by which
modern humans are recognised. But this does not rule out, as was the case
in Europe and the Near East, an explosion between 60,000 and 30,000
years ago in the frequency and ubiquity of these items (Mellars 2005),
in what has been called an Upper Palaeolithic, rather than Human,
revolution (Bar-Yosef 2002).
So what began as a study of archaeological transitions in 1973 (Klein 1973;
Mellars 1973) had, by 1989, become a worldwide human revolution
(Mellars and Stringer 1989). On the way the Upper Palaeolithic of
Europe and the Middle East had passed through a major re-think (White
1982), been explained as a revolution in its own right (Gilman 1984),
48 Origins and Revolutions

figure 2.2. The appearance of modern behaviours in Africa (after McBrearty and
Brooks 2000:Figure 13).

discussed in terms of the emergence of cultural complexity (Price
and Brown 1985) and regarded as a ˜big surprise™ sandwiched between
two interglacials with very different archaeological evidence for a hunter-
gatherer lifestyle (Gamble 1986:370À8), dubbed as a social revolution
(Stringer and Gamble 1993) and finally, at the turn of the century, described
as the revolution that never was (McBrearty and Brooks 2000), but for
different reasons (d™Errico 2003).

A sapient paradox to spur us on
I now have some answers to why anatomically and fully modern humans
entered the archaeological story.
First, they briefly extended the life of the old hat-rack model (Figure 2.1)
where fossils and behavioural capacity went together in a neat, bounded
package and in a single unbroken line. Hominins once knew their respec-
tive cultural roles; you would not catch a Neanderthal making Upper
Palaeolithic tools or a modern human knapping handaxes. The category of
The Human Revolution 49

anatomically modern human accommodated the contradictory evidence
by suggesting such mis-matches were present at moments of transition.
Second, once the evidence that the old associations between hominin
species and discrete cultural packages were seriously flawed became
overwhelming, anatomically modern humans became those not-yet-fully-
modern-humans prior to the Human Revolution. They were necessary to
that revolution because they were Homo sapiens ready for transformation
and not Homo neanderthalensis prepared for extinction. Note how the
argument parallels the Neolithic Revolution where some Homo sapiens-
hunter are available for change to Homo sapiens-farmer.
Third, and most importantly, the concept of the qualified modern
human substituted description for an explanation of change. Archaeologists
set out the traits for recognising behavioural modernity. What became
critical was the timing of their appearance. If tightly clustered and
recent then the Human Revolution was supported and change was
driven by biological advantage and adaptive success over the popula-
tions being replaced. If their appearance was staggered over a long time
then continuity and a gradual cultural evolution explained the pattern.
Digging deeper to establish the precise evolutionary mechanisms has never
been particularly important although archaeologists knew which box À
social, ecological, cognitive À they wanted to look in for the answers
(Table 1.1).
But none of the arguments about a Human Revolution have impressed
those archaeologists studying the issue from a Neolithic rather than
Palaeolithic perspective. What happens before agriculture is still, it
seems, irrelevant to the transformation of the species. The other, the
outgroup to humanity, continues to include both anatomically and
fully modern humans. And why? Because humanity is only made up of
This is the sapient paradox that Colin Renfrew (1996) has drawn
attention to and that Alasdair Whittle (2003:162) attributes to the horror of
the vacuum. It arises from the understanding of anatomically modern
humans apparently equipped with modern minds and language, but
showing none of the haste to change society, economy and material culture
that is so evident after the appearance of farming. Renfrew™s judgement on
the Human Revolution of 40,000 years ago is revealing:
After this momentous conjuncture (if such it was), looking at the question
broadly and at a distance, there were few decisive happenings in human
existence for another 30,000 years. Hunter-gatherer communities peopled
50 Origins and Revolutions

much of the earth À what the biologists term an adaptive radiation. But
there were few other profound and long-lasting changes, at any rate when
the picture is perceived in very general terms, until the end of the
Pleistocene period.
(Renfrew 2001:127)

His argument is that sedentism and the built environment that came
with agriculture allowed a much more varied relationship with the material
world to develop. For Renfrew, this was the ˜true human revolution™
(2001:128) when new concepts of value developed and a symbolic explosion
occurred that touched all aspects of social life.

Recency and a wider context for the Human Revolution
The issue that all these revolutions, and now the sapient paradox, revolve
around is the notion of human recency. As the historian of science Robert
Proctor (2003) has shown, this concept is a retreat from an earlier position,
best summed up as we have already seen in both Montagu™s (1965) and
Hockett and Ascher™s (1964) insistence on a very old human revolution that
split us from the apes millions, rather than a few thousand years ago.
The retreat from this traditional position has involved a twofold claim:
1. Early humans were not so human.
2. Humans are not so very old.
Both of these retreats are, in Proctor™s (2003:227) view, embarrassments to
the traditional vectors of human evolution that were once inclusive of
humans and hominins, but which are now exclusive, as the extreme case of
the sapient paradox shows. This is an important insight and suggests that
creations such as anatomically modern humans and fully modern humans
serve the cause of recency as much as revolution. The absolute time-scale is
not the issue but rather who among the hominins is included in the
definition of humanity.
But why is human recency an embarrassment rather than just a scien-
tific argument about the facts? The answer requires us to historicise
Palaeolithic archaeology rather than view it as a timely scientific process
uncovering relevant facts with increasing precision and accuracy. The
sense of embarrassment comes from the very close links that existed in
the 1950s between human origins research and the refutation of racist
ideologies that had led to the Holocaust in Europe during the Second
World War. The intellectual link, forged by a claim of ancient human
origins, was elaborated by multi-regionalists. Recency, and a single
The Human Revolution 51

table 2.5. A comparison of two models for human ancestry

Biology History
Universal humans Category Modern humans
Ancient Revolution Recent
˜Big tent™ encompasses Explanatory Diaspora and replacement
biological and cultural mechanism express the historical process
Regional continuity Current paradigm Single origins model, recent
African origin

African origin, present a different picture of the prehistory of race rela-
tions and is seen by multi-regionalists as a retreat from the moral high
The difference between the two models can be summed up as biology
versus history (Table 2.5). For multi-regionalists human diversity is an
expression of evolutionary principles such as convergent or parallel
evolution where comparable adaptations have evolved to meet similar
selection pressures from the environment. Among those who follow recent
origins, biology is still important but is under selection from the many
contingencies that attended the history of our diaspora from Africa. The
issue in this lively and often acrimonious debate, as Proctor (2003:224)
points out, is about which standpoint accords sufficient dignity to early
hominins such as Herto or Neanderthal so that palaeoanthropologists
can continue to escape the charge of fuelling racist agendas. To form a
judgement we need to consider not just our own palaeoanthropological
categories, such as anatomically and fully modern humans, but the political
move to recognise humans as universal subjects because of their evolu-
tionary endowment and growth.

Universal humans by decree
Why some fossil humans came to be described as ˜universal™ is not difficult
to trace. Universal was written on the flag planted beside the corpse of racist
science. It was a reaction to a world war whose politically motivated and
scientifically justified atrocities needed to be combated by all nations to
ensure they were never repeated.
52 Origins and Revolutions

One reaction, inspired by the principle of inclusion, was to spring--
clean the human fossil record. The result lumped the metrical and
morphological variation into a few species under a single genus, Homo
(Mayr 1950). The result, according to palaeoanthropologist Ian Tattersall
(1995:116), was a ˜big tent™ (Table 2.5) where no amount of variation was too
great to be contained within a mere three species. This lumping clarified
the search for a common human ancestry so that race, famously described
by Ashley Montagu as ˜Man™s most dangerous myth™ (Proctor 2003:215),
could be scientifically refuted.
Central to the process of refutation was the United Nations and its
agencies, of which UNESCO is the most important for my discussion. The
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation was
established in 1945 and by 1950 it had published the First statement on race.
According to Montagu, one of its principal authors:
The unity of mankind while firmly based in the biological history of man
rests not upon the demonstration of biological unity, but upon the ethical
principle of humanity, which is . . . the right of every human being to the
fulfilment of his potentialities as a human being.
(Montagu 1972:238, my emphasis)

This statement elaborated upon the earlier Universal declaration of
human rights (1948) where Article 1 states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are
endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(my emphasis)

and Article 2 asserts our entitlement to these rights and freedoms
irrespective of ˜race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status™.
These declarations sought to sweep away ignorance and prejudice
and, through scientific advances allied to education, promote universal
values. And there was plenty of ground to clear. ˜Biological unity™, for
example, sounds like a liberating principle. However, the demonstration
prior to 1950 that all the races had a common origin was essentially
a much older debate about the place of human diversity in the scheme
of evolution (Gamble 1993a:Chapter 2). Biological unity stated nothing
more than geographical races had evolved. They were neither original
nor god-given. But common origin did not amount to much when it came
The Human Revolution 53

to passing judgements on the abilities of races based on their his-
torical achievements and their position in an imperial pecking-order
(Count 1950).
The Articles are also strongly reminiscent of Lewis Henry Morgan™s
(1877:4) much earlier treatise on Ancient society where besides a catalogue
of inventions such as fire and writing he identified the evolution of the
primary human institutions; subsistence, government, language, the family,
religion, house life and property. These institutions could be said to
constitute an endowment that grew from his stage of savagery through
barbarism before attaining civilisation. Some living peoples, in Morgan™s
judgement, had not yet progressed from savagery even though they were
biologically the same as someone living in nineteenth-century New York.
Neither were the races the only losers to biological unity. The political
treatment of women rested on similar assessments of potential and
the judgements of history. With hindsight the use of ˜man™ and ˜his™
in the quotation from the Statement on race are revealing in a collective
document with such liberal intent.
Defining the universal characteristics of humanity was anthropology™s
great moment on the political stage (Montagu 1972). It set the agenda for
the study of human evolution throughout the 1960s when the scientific
treatment of earlier ancestral species was critically reviewed. Neanderthals,
for example, became part of humanity, brought in from the cold by the
authority of universal declarations which forced a re-think of their looks
and abilities (Brace 1964; Hammond 1982; Straus and Cave 1957).
Ashley Montagu (1972), author of the Statement on race and one of the
architects of the all-inclusive big tent model for our ancestors, allowed
everyone who made tools to be included in the definition of human.
Multi-regionalists followed suit and signed up to the declaration by
extending it to most of the other fossils in their care. Some of them did
not like the alternative.
The spread of humankind and its differentiation into distinct geographic
groups that persisted through long periods of time, with evidence of long-
lasting contact and cooperation, in many ways is a more satisfying
interpretation of human prehistory than a scientific rendering of the story
of Cain, based on one population quickly, and completely, and most likely
violently, replacing all others. This rendering of modern population
dispersals is a story of ˜making war and not love™, and if true its implications
are not pleasant.
(Wolpoff 1989:98)
54 Origins and Revolutions

Of course single origins supporters (Lahr and Foley 1998; Stringer and
Gamble 1993; Tattersall 1995) also care equally deeply about the implica-
tions of their interpretations. And as one of them I have to question whether
the imaginary archaeology of long-ago when peace not war ruled hom-
inin affairs is in fact any older than the optimistic but troubled decade when
today™s senior multi-regionalists were at graduate school. A single origin
standpoint also has its imaginary archaeology but with a narrative that is far
less biblical in tone:
It is pointless to seek winners or losers in the story of human evolution, for
each age will place its own gloss on history. Rather, we should accept that
differences exist, and use them to broaden our definitions and discussions

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