Lascaux Cave

Lascaux Cave is a Palaeolithic cave situated in southwestern France, near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region, which houses some of the most famous examples of prehistoric cave paintings. Close to 600 paintings – mostly of animals – dot the interior walls of the cave in impressive compositions. Horses are the most numerous, but deer, aurochs, ibex, bison, and even some felines can also be found. Besides these paintings, which represent most of the major images, there are also around 1400 engravings of a similar order. The art, dated to c. 17,000 – c. 15,000 BCE, falls within the Upper Palaeolithic period and was created by the clearly skilled hands of humans living in the area at that time. The region seems to be a hotspot; many beautifully decorated caves have been discovered there. The exact meaning of the paintings at Lascaux or any of the other sites is still subject to discussion, but the prevailing view attaches a ritualistic or even spiritual component to them, hinting at the sophistication of their creators. Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979, along with other prehistoric sites in its proximity.


Read also: Neanderthal, The Interior Cave Decorator

Posted in Cave art, Cave paintings | Tagged ,

Race as a Social Construct

Often times the word social construct is thrown around in various theoretical and general works without ever being defined or discussed. However, understanding what is meant by race as a social construct is vital to understanding the capacity race has to intersect and affect other aspects and domains of life and society, as well as how to dismantle it. To begin, a social construct is ontologically subjective, but epistemologically objective. It is ontologically subjective in that the construction and continued existence of social constructs are contingent on social groups and their collective agreement, imposition, and acceptance of such constructions. There is nothing absolute or real about social constructions in the same way as there is something absolute and real about rocks, rivers, mountains, and in general the objects examined by physics. Race, although it does not exist in the world in any ontologically objective way, it still is real in society (as opposed to nature). Race is a social construction that has real consequences and effects. These effects, consequences and the notion that race is ontologically subjective is epistemologically objective. We know that race is something that is real in society, and that it shapes the way we see ourselves and others.


Read also: The Concept of Race

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural anthropology, Race, Social construct | Tagged , , ,

Looking to Ancient Wisdom for Guidance on Refugee Crisis

Athens prided itself on welcoming the needy from other parts of the Greek world. Athenian myth dwells on how their ancestors offered sanctuary to those bullied by other cities, and these were repeated in the political arena. According to the historian Herodotus, Athenians drew on myths of how they protected vulnerable foreigners in order to win a dispute among the Greeks over who should take place of honour on the battlefield. Nearly 50 years later, according to Thucydides’s Histories, the politician Pericles praises Athens’s willingness to help others in his funeral oration , the formal speech of Athenian values given in honour of the war dead.

…. the most profound exploration of what is involved in taking in refugees is found in Greek tragedy. Nowadays we are most familiar with classical plays that deal with tensions within the family. But Greek tragedy also handles political questions, and how to deal with migrants is a recurrent theme. While Athens was proud of its mythical record of taking in refugees, in tragedy these stories are used to investigate how much our core values should mean to us. But as a whole the plays tend to celebrate Athens’s readiness to welcome those in need. While helping provokes conflict, it is the risk involved that gives Athens a claim to moral uniqueness.


Posted in Ancient, Greece, Refugees | Tagged , ,

Tracing the Dynamic Life Story of a Bronze Age Female

Ancient human mobility at the individual level is conventionally studied by the diverse application of suitable techniques (e.g. aDNA, radiogenic strontium isotopes, as well as oxygen and lead isotopes) to either hard and/or soft tissues. However, the limited preservation of coexisting hard and soft human tissues hampers the possibilities of investigating high-resolution diachronic mobility periods in the life of a single individual. Here, we present the results of a multidisciplinary study of an exceptionally well preserved circa 3.400-year old Danish Bronze Age female find, known as the Egtved Girl. We applied biomolecular, biochemical and geochemical analyses to reconstruct her mobility and diet. We demonstrate that she originated from a place outside present day Denmark (the island of Bornholm excluded), and that she travelled back and forth over large distances during the final months of her life, while consuming a terrestrial diet with intervals of reduced protein intake. We also provide evidence that all her garments were made of non-locally produced wool. Our study advocates the huge potential of combining biomolecular and biogeochemical provenance tracer analyses to hard and soft tissues of a single ancient individual for the reconstruction of high-resolution human mobility.


Posted in Ancient, Evolution, Female | Tagged , ,

Campfire Stories Helped Human Culture Evolve

While today sitting around a campfire, is just seen as good fun, a new study shows that 400,000 to one million years ago, these types of gatherings actually helped human culture evolve. All those years ago, the flames not only let them cook food and fend off predators, but also extended their day. Stories told over the firelight reinforced social traditions, promoted harmony and equality, as well as sparked humans’ imagination to envision a broad sense of community, both with distant people and the spirit world, according to the study. “There is something about fire in the middle of the darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people. It’s intimate,” anthropology professor Polly Wiessner from the University of Utah said in a statement. “Nighttime around a fire is universally time for bonding, for telling social information, for entertaining, for a lot of shared emotions.”

Data from the Ju/’hoan hunter-gatherers of southern Africa show major differences between day and night talk. Day talk centered on practicalities and sanctioning gossip; firelit activities centered on conversations that evoked the imagination, helped people remember and understand others in their external networks, healed rifts of the day, and conveyed information about cultural institutions that generate regularity of behavior and corresponding trust. Appetites for firelit settings for intimate conversations and for evening stories remain with us today.


Posted in Campfire, Cultural evolution, Storytelling | Tagged , ,

Cultural Neuroscience and the Collective Good

What is the role of the individual in the collective good? Human history is rife with examples of prosocial change brought about by individual heroism. In this chapter, we explore the importance of the individual in shaping the collective good through the lens of cultural neuroscience. Specifically, we examine how fundamental components of the social brain, including self-knowledge, empathy-altruism, and a sense of fairness and justice, have been shaped by culture-gene coevolutionary forces and how we can understand individual and collective good as by-products of these core capacities. Cultural neuroscience is an emerging research discipline that investigates cultural variation in psychological, neural, and genomic processes as a means of articulating the bidirectional relationship of these processes and their emergent properties. Research in cultural neuroscience is motivated by two intriguing questions of human nature: How do cultural traits (e.g., values, beliefs, practices) shape neurobiology (e.g., genetic and neural processes) and behavior and how do neurobiological mechanisms (e.g., genetic and neural processes) facilitate the emergence and transmission of cultural traits?

The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.
The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.
—William James (1880)


Posted in Collective, Community, Cultural neuroscience, Social neuroscience | Tagged , , ,

Cognitive Culture – Theoretical and Empirical insights into Social Learning Strategies

Research into social learning (learning from others) has expanded significantly in recent years, not least because of productive interactions between theoretical and empirical approaches. This has been coupled with a new emphasis on learning strategies, which places social learning within a cognitive decision-making framework. Understanding when, how and why individuals learn from others is a significant challenge, but one that is critical to numerous fields in multiple academic disciplines, including the study of social cognition. Clearly, the study of social learning strategies is a rapidly growing field with implications for multiple fields of research. The empirical studies reviewed here reveal the subtlety and complexity of the learning strategies used by humans. An important contribution of this work, in parallel with studies on non-humans, is to challenge the notion of a single best strategy, or a strategy associated with a particular type of individual, or species. Rather, recent work  emphasizes instead the way in which the flexible context-dependent use of a range of subtle biases is a general feature of social learning, in both humans and other animals. In future, this should inspire theoretical researchers in turn to take on the challenge of incorporating meta-strategies into their models.


Posted in Cognition, Cognitive culture, Culture, Social cognition, Social learning, Strategy | Tagged , , , , ,