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Stones, shapes and speech: interpreting the origins of language from lithic variation with geometric morphometrics

Author(s): Cory Cuthbertson ; Christian Hoggard

Year: 2017

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Results from a recent experiment demonstrate that morphological standardization is an indicator of complex cultural transmission and cognition. A novel methodology integrating geometric morphometrics and Multiple Factor Analysis was employed to assess global shape variance in four experimental handaxe assemblages made by novice knappers trained under four different simulated social learning environments (emulation, imitation, silent teaching and verbal teaching). The higher the fidelity of their learning environment, the lower the morphological variability the assemblages exhibited. High fidelity social learning methods require theory of mind (the ability to think about thoughts), which is correlated with specific linguistic traits that scaffold its development. Therefore archaeological assemblages that exhibit high levels of standardization might only be possible when transmitted through high fidelity cultural transmission, in communities that operated with a theory of mind and linguistic skills. 104 handaxes had 2D outline coordinate data taken for their planar, lateral and superior view. A Multiple Factor Analysis then observed the three concatenated datasets. Handaxes in the low fidelity group (emulation) demonstrated the largest range of variation, while the high fidelity groups (teaching) demonstrated the lowest range of variation. The methods were also able to successfully discriminate between the four groups based on their shape variance.

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Stones, shapes and speech: interpreting the origins of language from lithic variation with geometric morphometrics. Cory Cuthbertson, Christian Hoggard. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429133)


Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16273

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