Homo Cognitive Development (Contextualized in Middle Paleolithic Burials)

Author(s): Suzi Wilson

Year: 2015


The cognitive developments that occurred in the Homo genus over 100,000 years ago enabled expansive forms of consciousness, facilitated increased creative capacities, and in so doing allowed hominins to consider concepts that were previously unimaginable. These developments are rooted in social origins, possibly extending back to the Australopithecines, and their emergence is expressed through the first burials of the dead – both by Neanderthal and Homo sapiens. However, these burials of Europe and the Near East do not necessarily indicate the provenance of spirituality or the belief in an afterlife or after-person. These burials only indicate a shift in thinking with respect to the corpse – one that I have termed "postmortemism". Postmortemism is a concept or sentiment that transforms the corpse into something other than waste. By affording special treatment to the corpse, it becomes imbued with agency regardless of the underlying motivation for this treatment. In its simplest form, postmortemism might prompt burial as a means to honor and/or mourn the dead, or perpetuate the dead’s existence as part of the community. It is from the sentiment of postmortemism that burial practice developed, and it was only after postmortemism that spiritual beliefs grew from these embodied mortuary practices.

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Homo Cognitive Development (Contextualized in Middle Paleolithic Burials). Suzi Wilson. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 398112)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;