of humanity. For although the Neanderthals were, quite simply, â€˜not usâ€™,
they Ã€ or rather their African kin Ã€ provided the basis from which we
sprang; both they and the early Moderns have a place in our prehistory,
whether or not they were our actual lineal ancestors.
(Stringer and Gamble 1993:219)
Difference and diversity are best seen as creative examples of evolution,
rather than as the hard covers of a book within which all hominins must
necessarily shelter if we are to be judged as ethical scientists and human
The endowment and growth of modern humans
Palaeoanthropologists have, thanks to molecular biology, had a second bite
at the issue of hominin dignity. Defining the universal rights of humanity
could only take place based on the supposition, as Morgan showed, of our
original endowment. In cultural terms this gift is very much the list of
distinctions from Article 2, and where reason, conscience, language,
religion, heredity, social origin and property are critical. Humanity is
therefore about the moral uses of this dowry rather than the planning depth
(Table 2.2) selected by archaeologists as a hallmark of humanity (e.g.
Binford 1989; Kuhn 1992; Roebroeks et al. 1988). Everyone, the 1948
Universal Declaration states, has rights based on their possession of this
common endowment. By implication, if a human society existed without
these attributes then they would not be human.
Such a debate over the boundaries to humanity have more recently
encompassed molecular data. In 1950 when the First statement on race was
written the description of the DNA molecule by Watson and Crick was still
three years away. The subsequent half-century of research has added a new
The Human Revolution 55
dimension to our universal endowment. For instance, how significant for
our identity is the 2 per cent of genes that we do not share with chimps
(Marks 2002)? The changing historical circumstances within which these
new tools to measure humanity emerged are summarised in UNESCOâ€™s
1997 Universal declaration on the human genome and human rights. The
first three articles are particularly relevant to defining what an individual
is in the context of the common genetic gifts which make us human.
The human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of
the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and
diversity. In a symbolic sense, it is the heritage of humanity.
a) Everyone has the right to respect for their dignity and for their rights
regardless of their genetic characteristics.
b) That dignity makes it imperative not to reduce individuals to their
genetic characteristics and to respect their uniqueness and diversity.
The human genome, which by its nature evolves, is subject to mutations.
It contains potentialities that are expressed differently according to each
individualâ€™s natural and social environment including the individualâ€™s
state of health, living conditions, nutrition and education.
The â€˜heritage of humanityâ€™ is therefore embodied in all of us. Difference
is to be expected, diversity and uniqueness to be respected. As with all
endowments they can be used well or badly, which in Article 3 is regarded
as a result of the environment. Although we are all born with a common
genetic heritage we cannot choose where we are born and that is what
makes us different individuals. Moreover the first Statement on race
(Montagu 1972:12) makes the point in paragraph 15 that â€˜equality as an
ethical principle in no way depends upon the assertion that human beings
are in fact equal in endowmentâ€™. We are â€˜all equally menâ€™ (Montagu
1972:123) since everyone possesses the elements of the basic human dowry.
However, just like presents at rich and poor weddings, or indeed like
genetic inheritance itself, what we get is not equal.
But even more significant is the proposition in Article 3 that the human
genome has an essential quality that precedes the environment into which
we are born. It even precedes our physical conception. This essence is
the quality of change, â€˜which by its nature evolvesâ€™. Our endowment
56 Origins and Revolutions
is therefore clear. Humanity cannot stay still: growth is part of that
biological endowment and is driven forward by some inherited, essential
life force over which we have no control. Such a representation is
reminiscent of early socio-biology where our bodies and cultures were
presented as just a means, respectively, by which our genes and memes
reproduced themselves (Dawkins 1976).
This view of our endowment also needs to be set in historical context.
Sadly the first Statement on race did not banish â€˜Manâ€™s most dangerous
mythâ€™. The political history of the last fifty years has had scant regard for the
Universal declaration of human rights as genocide, ethnic cleansing and
persecution have been conducted in every continent in the name of race,
language, religion, social origin and property. Since 1950 geneticists have
replaced anthropologists on the political stage and been given the task of
defining more precisely the human endowment. But I cannot imagine the
results will be much different by 2050.
Anatomically fully post-modern humans?
It is significant that geneticists supplied the clinching evidence for the
recent evolution of humans in a single continent, Africa. That being the
case, does the claim for human recency recognise that despite develop-
ments in transport and media technologies we live in a world that is still
patently very diverse? It is tempting to see the biological metaphors of
growth and development applied in this way, and at a moment when
geneticists contend that our genetic diversity is declining thanks to bicycles
and jumbo jets: the former widened local mate choice and the latter is
creating global gene pools.
But these genetic changes are part of a bigger project. Recency supplied a
logical origin for the critical analysis of humanityâ€™s universal project of the
last three hundred years that is known as modernity (Friedman 1994).
Archaeology, as Julian Thomas (2004:41) shows, has played a role in this
project by supplying an origin that modern societies demand to render
them legitimate, as well as distracting attention away from the fact that
science, with its standpoint of objectivity, is divorced from social relations.
Modernity transformed the world through the forces of nationalism,
industrialisation, science and capitalism. It is the process of change that
Raymond Williams (1965) described in his long revolution, although he did
not call it modernity. The declaration of universal human values is a fine
example of the modernist project although since 1945 modernity has been
The Human Revolution 57
increasingly critiqued as a framework of knowledge reaching a post-
modernist crescendo in the 1970s.
The significance of modernity, as anthropologist Jonathan Friedman
(1994:143) argues, is that it changed cultural identity by separating the
symbol from what it refers to. Such a separation is regarded as another of
Descartesâ€™ legacies from the seventeenth century (see Prologue). The
change which modernity ushered in was that community became less to do
with the rallying-call provided by local shared symbols, although these still
figured, and more with participation in the structures which reproduce our
global selves. This puts an interesting twist on how we understand culture.
As Friedman (1994:206) points out, with a Western understanding of
modernity, culture can be understood as a global product that transforms
difference into essence. We belong to different cultures because we use our
common endowment in varied ways. And it is the cause of that variety,
summarised as culture, which is our historical essence. An explanation
contained in Article 3 of UNESCOâ€™s 1997 Declaration on the human
genome â€˜according to each individualâ€™s natural and social environmentâ€™.
Friedman (1994:207) then questions this understanding, much as I would
take issue with the notion in Article 3 that the genome â€˜by its nature
evolvesâ€™. Culture, Friedman asserts, does not depend on a prior notion that
it is the way that meaning is organised. This would be a classic statement of
essence where the social condition precedes the social actor. If this were the
case then political and cultural determination is not possible. The system
always triumphs and forces us to its will. The alternative, according to
Friedman, is that culture emerges out of human agency and all its
associated practices. No prior notions are needed. As Tim Ingold (2000:376)
points out, we have a developmental system that evolved to underwrite our
capacities but that should not be interpreted as an innate tendency to grow
all aspects of humanity.
The changing forms and capacities of creatures Ã€ whether human or
otherwise Ã€ are neither given in advance as a phylogenetic endowment
nor added on through a parallel process of cultural transmission but
emerge through histories of development within environments that are
continually being shaped by their activities.
Now, human recency as conceived by palaeoanthropologists is not for
a moment part of the post-modernist critique. As a concept it lies full-square
in the best scientific traditions of modernity. But the timing of its
appearance betrays it nonetheless as a response to a changing world view
58 Origins and Revolutions
driven by globalisation on the one hand and the reaction of local
communities to such forces on the other. I therefore doubt that without
the academic and artistic reactions to modernity there would be any notion
of a recent Human Revolution in archaeology. We can see that fully
modern humans, with their global diaspora from a single geographical
centre, appeared as a universal concept to match contemporary globalisa-
tion. Furthermore, those same modern humans were transformed locally as
biological and cultural meanings were added to the universal product,
ourselves, through those histories of development.
By now I hope I have convinced you that revolutions are not the right
tools for the study of change on these vast time-scales. But neither are
continuity and gradualism necessarily better descriptions since, as I argued
in Chapter 1, this would only replace locomotives with the inevitability of
future-creep. Instead we need to re-think those metaphors of endowment
and biological growth that have emerged as central to the archaeological
study of change and return to a sense of humanity that is not a universal
instrument inspired by well-intentioned political action. It is time to
consider our desire for origins.
Metaphors for origins
â€˜Perhaps it doesnâ€™t understand Englishâ€™ thought Alice. â€˜I daresay itâ€™s a
French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror.â€™ (For, with all
her knowledge of history, Alice had no very clear notion how long ago
anything had happened.)
Lewis Carroll Aliceâ€™s Adventures in Wonderland 1865
Origins and desire
Revolutions bring change. But they do not necessarily bring understanding
of why things changed. They are skirmishes in the larger historical battle
over our origins and it is here, when the smoke clears, that justification is
sought and explanations accepted. So far I have held these origins questions
in reserve but now it is time to ask them. They have already been implicated
in the Neolithic Revolution, through its association with the origins of
agriculture and sedentism, and in the Human Revolution with the origins of
language, art and symbolism. But while revolutions are a recent shock tactic,
often used by archaeologists to gain rhetorical advantage, origins research is
fundamental to the entire campaign, where archaeology is just one com-
pany alongside the big battalions of history, philosophy and social science.
Origins research is much older than an academic subject recognisable
as archaeology. Since Classical times Western scholars have addressed
religious and political issues by posing origins questions, and have answered
them using a variety of sources. Modernity adapted these traditions and
established as one of its central ideas that humanity, Mankind, is the subject
of history (Thomas 2004) and, moreover, one that can be revealed through
a systematic regard for the evidence.
60 Origins and Revolutions
But intriguingly, origins questions have not changed under the weight of
data supplied by those same academic disciplines that arose to feed our
curiosity. In their brief survey of accounts of human social origins, Bruno
Latour and Shirley Strum (1986) analysed seven texts written over the last
350 years. The subtitle of their article, â€˜Oh please, tell us another storyâ€™ sums
up what they found: that the current wealth of facts, scientifically arrived at,
were servicing the same philosophical conjectures about the origins of
humanity that had been inherited from Hobbes and Rousseau, but less
Why should this be? Why do the questions and frame of reference
remain static while the information on ancestors, their capabilities and the
timing of the evolutionary process is dynamic and kaleidoscopic? This
discrepancy suggests we are faced with one of those core beliefs of Western
society and science that is so deep-seated that it can accommodate almost
anything that comes to light rather than face a need for change. Origins
research is therefore fundamental because it is a master narrative about
human ascendancy, first over our own biology and second over the forces of
nature. Origins research is the way we have traditionally defined our human
qualities and looked to evidence from the past for support of this belief.
In previous chapters I have shown how the Human Revolution, whether
old or young, marks for many the origin point when we transcended our
biology through enhanced cognitive powers. Moreover, the Neolithic
Revolution apparently transformed us from slaves to nature into natureâ€™s
master. Origins research takes the familiar dualisms that construct so many
investigations Ã€ culture:nature, body:soul, mind:matter Ã€ and accords
them historical significance and an asymmetrical authority. Hence, nature
and biology once dominated human society but this position was reversed
with the development of agriculture when culture and society triumphed.
And like a core belief in many world cultures, this master narrative is
protected by silent rituals that preserve it from change.
The entire process is driven by desire. Identifying origins in time and
space creates a history of human desire and it is that force which drives our
notions of change from the origin point onwards. Of course, the nature
of that desire changes as part of the historical process as new interpretations
of our relationship to each other and the world come into play as conditions
alter. But the structure by which we understand that desire remains the
same with its need for foundation. And that is what I mean by â€˜protecting
So origins research, while heavily critiqued in all disciplines, including
archaeology (Gamble and Gittins 2004; Landau 1986; 1991; Moore 1995),
Metaphors for origins 61
possesses a staying power that shows little sign of waning as Latour and
Strum demonstrate. It is for this reason that declaring the true revolution to
have been the Neolithic, or asserting the primacy of an earlier watershed
over which fully modern humans spilled, is unlikely to resolve the issue
because it does not need to be resolved. More importantly, it is this
desire for a foundation from which universal truths and values can be
distilled that calls forth an imaginative ancient geography that I will call
The pursuit of origins questions leads us, unhesitatingly, to Originsland:
a time and space that is defined by many different interests across the
arts as well as the sciences and by beliefs that are variously rational and
relational, common-sense and based on faith. The many identities of
Originsland differ in the weighting they give to the authority bestowed by
either emotion or reason. A fundamentalist knows exactly where, when and
how the Garden of Eden came into being just as a palaeoanthropologist,
working within the framework of physics and evolutionary science, is con-
fident that alternative human cradles existed, and can provide supporting
dates, locations and extinct inhabitants.
The boundaries of Originsland are determined by the intellectual
security that all investigation needs, whatever its basis of belief. This was
Jacques Derridaâ€™s idea, and underpinned his complex notion of logocen-
trism, expressing the metaphysical desire for foundation (Hugdahl 1999).
Within the discipline of archaeology, that origin point is provided by the
Palaeolithic period (Gamble and Gittins 2004) from where the landscape of
Originsland is mapped out in terms of difference to everything that comes
The changing boundaries to Originsland, like those in another imag-
inative geography, Aliceâ€™s Wonderland, are best understood by analogy.
For example, the division between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic (Old
and New Stone Ages respectively), named by Sir John Lubbock in 1865,
is analogous as a boundary concept to the Mason-Dixon boundary line
laid out a century before to demarcate southern Pennsylvania and northern
Maryland, but whose significance changed with the subsequent history
of the United States. Establishing the North-South divide was not the
intent of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in 1763 and only later, before
the Civil War of 1861Ã€5, did their eponymous line become the northern
boundary of the slave owning states. What Mason and Dixon
62 Origins and Revolutions
unintentionally did for political space in one continent, Lubbock (1865)
did for archaeological time in the context of universal history. His division
also came to represent a fundamental separation and sometime after 1865
his terms were widely used to characterise different and irreconcilable
systems of social organisation on either side of the Palaeolithic/Neolithic
divide (Chapter 1). An important internal division had been drawn within
Just how important this division was can be judged by the peopling of
this imaginative space. Within the borders of Originsland archaeologists
are bound by inherited concepts that support pre-existing values and
truths about human nature and identity (see also Conkey and Williams
1991; Graves 1991; Proctor 2003). From these values flows the structure
of the past we are unwilling to change. For example, both the â€˜cavemenâ€™
prior to â€˜modern humansâ€™, and the economic â€˜hunter-gatherersâ€™ before
the advent of â€˜farmersâ€™, are examples of logocentrism because they
provide direction for the master narrative that deals with the ascendancy
of contemporary human values. In particular these categories relate to
the overarching concepts of Man and Mankind put forward in the
nineteenth century as a universal project for history to investigate
In this way the origins of modern humans and agriculture provide a
secure foundation on which the core business of archaeology, the docu-
mentation of the history of later institutions and practices, can proceed.
The Palaeolithic has to be different and treated as such. Originsland is
indeed a foreign country where identity cards are carefully checked on
The origin point and the cone of research
Archaeologists did not invent Originsland. Rather they colonised it for their
own purposes. They did so because Originsland provided a ready expla-
nation for the burgeoning discoveries, commencing in the seventeenth
century that formed a material archive for the proposition of an ancient
human past and later a concept of Mankind. Just as the earliest systematic
archaeologists, such as C. J. Thomsen (Chapter 1), appropriated a three-age
system of thinking from philosophy so too did the idea of an origins point
come from wider social concerns with change.
Two images by William Blake express the contrasted interests in
Originsland. The first is his celebrated vision of God as an architect
(1794) that provides (Figure 3.1), as Erica Gittins has pointed out, a timely
Metaphors for origins 63
figure 3.1. The cone of origins research. William Blakeâ€™s God as an architect (1794)
that appears as the first Plate in Europe a prophecy.
historical representation of origins thinking long before any recognisably
archaeologically focused origins research had begun.
In the picture God reaches out of the circle to map the higher order of
creation. But the appeal to divine authority to explain intelligible spatial
order (Cosgrove 1999:19) is only one of Blakeâ€™s themes. An archaeological
rather than geographical reading of the image reveals the patriarch as the
origin point formed by the compasses wielded not only by God, but also by
Sir Isaac Newton in Blakeâ€™s later image (Figure 3.2). Here, Newton maps
64 Origins and Revolutions
figure 3.2. Newton as a divine geometer by William Blake (1795). Compasses were a
traditional symbol of God as the architect of the Universe.
the human project from the origin point of scientific reason rather than
religious belief. Blake disagreed with this standpoint; hence the descent
into darkness in front of the scientist. While both images point to a mapping
project, what emerges between the outstretched cone of the compasses is
the archaeological time, as well as the geographical space, of Originsland.
Newtonâ€™s hold on the compasses is also one of political purchase on
a description of knowledge and understanding that is very familiar to
archaeologists. As Alexandra Alexandri (1995:58; Conkey and Williams
1991; Wobst and Keene 1983) shows, such a research cone directs the
production and interpretation of knowledge about human origins. Power
resides with the person holding the tip of the cone, by virtue of new
discoveries and the control over information they provide.
The origins cone is a dominant image. For example, the familiar and
repetitive depictions of the inevitable march of male-led progress and the
triumph of culture over biology (Figure 3.3).
The concept of the research cone nicely exposes what Tim Ingold
(2000:Chapter 21) so dislikes about the category of modern humans. Forty
years ago the category of anatomically modern humans was introduced out
of laudable motives: the harnessing of evolutionary evidence to overthrow
Metaphors for origins 65
figure 3.3. The human origins cone containing the male march of progress.
racist dogma (Chapter 2). But in order to make the concept of a modern
human work it was necessary to take a step back to Descartes and re-assert
our unique standing as a dual creature. Humans, Ingold argues (2000:389),
had to be presented as both a species of nature and at the same time so
emancipated from the world that it became the object of our consciousness.
When we come to contemplate how this situation arose, which it appar-
ently did not for other animals, then we are confronted by the emergence
of history itself.