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Cognitive Archaeology

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

The study of cognitive archaeology began to emerge in the 1970s, and is now becoming a discipline in its own right. Cognitive archaeology aims to understand the mental abilities of past human ancestors through rigorous application of scientific techniques in archaeology, psyschology, neuroscience, anthropology, and primatology. One of the main goals of cognitive archaeology is to develop new ways to interpret prehistoric cognition from the archaeological record. We are now in an exciting phase of cognitive archaeology as many disciplines come together to create new synergies. In the process of developing this new cross-disciplinary field, it is important to establish legitimate and replicable research methodologies. Collaborations between disciplines can help to validate methods and results.This symposium aims to bring together established and emerging cognitive archaeologists to showcase their latest research and theories, consider the range of potential for the discipline, and clarify misconceptions. At the end, participants will discuss at length to create a manifesto of best practice for cognitive archaeology.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-14 of 14)

  • Documents (14)


  • Determining Hominid Handedness in Lithic Debitage: A Review of Current Methodologies (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Lithic analysis is of great value for understanding hominid biological, cognitive, and cultural evolution, but analyses of handedness in lithics are rare, despite their potential to elucidate the evolution of human lateralities in the body and the brain. This paper will present results of an experiment to determine handedness in lithic materials. In a blind study on debitage (n=631) from Acheulean handaxes created by right- and left-handed flintknappers, several flake characteristics...

  • Finding the Cognitive Neurocognitive Core of Paleolithic Stoneknapping: an ALE meta-analysis (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Pioneering neuroimaging studies have allowed the analysis of the cognitive basis of stoneknapping and lithic technology to develop rapidly over the past 40 years. While these studies have helped identify the neuroanatomy of stoneknapping, interpretation of the cognitive significance of these results is still in its early days. To provide a comparative baseline between brain activity in stoneknapping and the rest of cognitive neuroscience, I performed an Activation Likelihood Estimate (ALE)...

  • The Handaxe Aesthetic (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Perhaps the most intractable puzzle of the Palaeolithic is the Acheulean handaxe. Despite a century and a half of scrutiny by several generations of archaeologists, a comprehensive understanding of these enigmatic but ubiquitous artifacts remains out of reach. The typological approach that dominated Palaeolithic studies for a century arguably generated more puzzles than it resolved (‘stasis’, the ‘Movius line’) and the functional/materialist approach simply confirmed that they were tools....

  • Handedness and the evolution of tool use in humans (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The right-handed bias in humans is significantly stronger at the population level than what has been found for other primates. The functional connection this might have with the elaboration of tool use in general, and stone tool making in particular, has long been of interest. Tracing the development of handedness in the fossil record would allow for an assessment of the degree to which handedness is associated with technological advances evident in the archaeological record. The extent to which...

  • Higher Cognitive Sequelae of the Recently Expanded Parietal Lobes in Homo sapiens (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Bruner and his colleagues (Bruner et al. 2013) have demonstrated that the parietal lobes in Homo sapiens are expanded in comparison to Neandertals and Homo heidelbergensis. The traditional parietal lobe function of the brain, somatosensory integration, is thought to be among the phylogenetically oldest functions of the brain. However, recent research has shown that the parietal lobes may be critical to many of the higher cognitive functions of modern Homo sapiens. There are two regions appear to...

  • Hominin cognition across the Acheulean to Middle Palaeolithic transition (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    In 2013 I suggested that changes in behaviour at a transitional Acheulean to Middle Palaeolithic site in India were characterized by increases in generativity, hierarchical organization and recursion, and that the transition was perhaps underpinned by improved working memory. Here I present the results of a knapping experiment that compares the recursive and hierarchical complexity of Acheulean and Middle Palaeolithic knapping sequences in order to test this claim. I then look at how...

  • Learning to think: using experimental flintknapping to interpret prehistoric cognition (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The analysis of stone tools has long been a technique used when addressing prehistoric cognition. While experimental studies have been used extensively as a tool that can give information on these technologies, these studies have often been short term and involved a small number of participants. This paper uses the examples of two longer term multi-disciplinary studies of experimental flintknapping, involving the teaching of early knapping technologies, to demonstrate the value of experimental...

  • Numbers and time: The role of materiality in numerical cognition (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Numerical elaboration and the extension of numbers to non-tangible domains such as time have been linked to cultural complexity in several studies. However, the reasons for this phenomenon remain insufficiently explored. In the present analysis, Material Engagement Theory, an emerging perspective in cognitive archaeology, provides a new perspective from which to reinterpret the cultural nexus in which quantification and timekeeping develop. These insights are then applied to representative...

  • Prehistoric perspectives on ‘Others’ and ‘Strangers’ (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    A point that we want to emphasize is that "cognitive archaeology" is a catch-all phrase that covers pretty much every aspect of human existence. To truly discuss cognitive archaeology, we need to define the specific areas of interest in each case. Given our position that cognitive capacities as such existed from at least the late Middle Pleistocene, we are interested in questions about evolution of social cognitive constructs. These constructs portray the plasticity of cognitive mechanisms and...

  • Primatology, Developmental Psychology, and the Birth of Cognitive Archaeology (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Charting the emergence of human cognition from archaeological remains requires reconstructing the probable behavioral capacities of the last common chimpanzee/human ancestor and delineating the cognitive, motor, and social abilities that underpin the production of hominin material cultures. Hence, the birth and growth of cognitive archaeology has long depended upon research findings in other disciplines. This paper provides a brief overview of historical perceptions of adult and immature human...

  • The Social Transmission of Oldowan Lithic Technology (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Flint flakes appear in the archaeological record from 2.5mya and the skill to produce them is believed to have been socially transmitted. However, how this occurred remains a mystery. In an experiment involving 184 participants, we investigated how effectively five different forms of transmission facilitate the acquisition of the ability to produce Oldowan flakes. We compared i) reverse engineering of discarded flakes, ii) observational learning, iii) basic "ape-like" teaching, iv) gestural...

  • Stone tool-making and the right cerebral hemisphere (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Neuroscience research has linked both language and tool-use to neural circuits in the left hemisphere, leading to hypotheses of co-evolutionary interaction between these behaviors. However, it is known that the right hemisphere also contributes to language, particularly with respect to large scale (e.g. prosody, context) processing. Studies of actual tool-making, as opposed to simple use, are sparse, but similarly suggest right hemisphere involvement in the more complex and temporally extended...

  • Using Neuroimaging in Archaeology to investigate Cognitive Evolution (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    A big question in cognitive archaeology is whether complex tool-making and language co-evolved in the human lineage. There is considerable overlap in the brain structures that support complex body actions, including pantomiming and tool use, but also making music and using language. The activation of shared brain areas for separate skills is the basis of this popular theory. The aim of this talk is to review some of the difficulties - and possible solutions - to measuring the degree of overlap...

  • Visuospatial integration: perspective in cognitive archaeology (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Cognitive archaeology is based on the assumption that behaviors can reveal cognitive capacities, and that archaeology can provide inferences on behaviors. Additional information comes from the fossil record (paleoneurology) and from methods in neuroscience (neuroarchaeology). Visuospatial functions can be investigated from all these perspectives. In archaeology, visuospatial capacity can be investigated in terms of space and geometry according to information on tools, tool use, and space...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America