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 , , , , ,

Group Minds and Mindset – On the Identities of Crowds

This book seeks to detail what we mean when we speak of human associations – groups, organizations and whole societies – as composite minds in their own right, with characteristic identities and changing mindsets of their own. The book’s first chapter discusses the notion of mind as such – generic mind, so to speak. How do we recognize a mind when we encounter one? Subsequent chapters then focus on the minds of human associations, asking and suggesting answers to such questions as: How do group minds recruit the cooperation of their members, and influence their individual behaviors? What kinds of group minds are there? How does adaptive intelligence, emerge in human groups? What features and limitations are characteristic of such intelligence? How does the collective thinking of groups emerge from and relate to the thinking of their leaders, experts and individual members? A digression on human evolution follows, reading the archaeological record as the story of some primate hominids who became specialists in group-mind – thereby achieving tremendous collective power at the price of individual dependence upon, and subservience to our groups. The book concludes with a chapter on the world-mind of today’s global society, and then with a brief discussion of motivations for the book’s approach. Its implicit contention is that we cannot be truly conscious and autonomous today without a clear understanding of the collective minds that shape us.


Posted in Collective, Crowds, Groups, Mind, Mindset | Tagged , , , ,

Culture shapes the Evolution of Cognition

A central debate in cognitive science concerns the nativist hypothesis, the proposal that universal features of behavior reflect a biologically determined cognitive substrate: For example, linguistic nativism proposes a domain-specific faculty of language that strongly constrains which languages can be learned. An evolutionary stance appears to provide support for linguistic nativism, because coordinated constraints on variation may facilitate communication and therefore be adaptive. However, language, like many other human behaviors, is underpinned by social learning and cultural transmission alongside biological evolution. We set out two models of these interactions, which show how culture can facilitate rapid biological adaptation yet rule out strong nativization. The amplifying effects of culture can allow weak cognitive biases to have significant population-level consequences, radically increasing the evolvability of weak, defeasible inductive biases; however, the emergence of a strong cultural universal does not imply, nor lead to, nor require, strong innate constraints. From this we must conclude, on evolutionary grounds, that the strong nativist hypothesis for language is false. More generally, because such reciprocal interactions between cultural and biological evolution are not limited to language, nativist explanations for many behaviors should be reconsidered: Evolutionary reasoning shows how we can have cognitively driven behavioral universals and yet extreme plasticity at the level of the individual—if, and only if, we account for the human capacity to transmit knowledge culturally. Wherever culture is involved, weak cognitive biases rather than strong innate constraints should be the default assumption.


Posted in Cognition, Culture, Evolution, Language, Nativism | Tagged , , , ,