Soundscapes in the past: A new dimension to our picture of ancient cultures

Picture an archaeological site, what comes to mind? Sandstone walls, standing in the desert heat? Stonehenge, watching over a grassy field?

When thinking about archaeological sites, we tend to conceive of them as dead silent – empty ruins left by past cultures. But this isn’t how the people who lived in and used these sites would have experienced them. Residents would have heard others speaking and laughing, babies crying, people working, dogs barking and music such as drumming. These sounds could be heard from close by, and perhaps coming from distant locations as well.


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Our Neanderthal Complex – What if they did “human” better?

Much of our understanding of the Neanderthals has turned out to be wrong. Neanderthals created complex tools, buried their dead, had an organized use of space, probably cared for the infirm, and perhaps even conversed vocally.

By the 1990s and early 2000s, research had firmly established that Neanderthals created complex tools, buried their dead, had an organized use of space, probably cared for the infirm, and perhaps even conversed vocally. Over the last decade, a host of sites, like El Sidrón, Riparo Bombrini, and Mezmaiskaya Cave (in Spain, Italy, and Russia, respectively), have offered more evidence—like specialized living areas in rock shelters and complex tool technologies—to indicate that Neanderthals were capable of sophisticated behavior.


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When ancient societies began to need a village to raise a child

New research by a University of Utah anthropologist explains how and why mothers in ancient societies formed cooperative groups to help raise their children. Karen Kramer, an associate professor of anthropology, published a study in the Journal of Human Evolution titled, “When Mothers Need Others: Life History Transitions Associated with the Evolution of Cooperative Breeding.”

Her research examines how mothers underwent a remarkable transition from the past—when they had one dependent offspring at a time, ended support of their young at weaning and received no help from others—to the present when mothers often have multiple kids who help rear other children. “We simulated an economic problem that would have arisen over the course of human evolution—as mothers became more successful at producing children, they also had more dependents than they could care for on their own,” said Kramer of her research.


Posted in Ancient, Children, Parenting | Tagged , ,

Neanderthals Cared for the Ill and Injured, Assisted Childbirth

In a paper published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, University of York’s Dr. Penny Spikins and co-authors argue that Neanderthals embraced healthcare practices, such as assisting in cases of serious injury and the challenges of childbirth.

“We have evidence of health care dating back 1.6 million years ago, but we think it probably goes further back than this.”


Read also: Research paper

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Consumption, Food and Culture

Everybody eats to live but food is more than nutrition. Food is a powerful carrier of cultural meaning. Food touches many core issues in sociology and social life, like social stratification, poverty, and prestige, class, gender roles, consumption, nationalism, and globalization. These cross‐pressures generate rich collections of meaning. Local meanings as they are modified by culture, institutional context, class, politics, and history make food a rewarding research subject.


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Emotion: Cultural Aspects

The relationship between emotions and culture has been discussed ever since there was interest in what it means to be human, and since then that relationship has been contrastingly characterized as either inimical or reconcilable. Culture can be understood as the defining values, meanings, and thoughts of a local, national, or supranational community. When emotions are conceived in terms of psychological feelings and physical sensations, then they appear inimical to culture. This is because such a perspective suggests the involuntary nature and disorganizing consequence of emotions. The opposition between cognition as reason and emotion, implicit in this representation, is classically defended in Plato’s critique of dramatic poetry in the Republic. Plato’s supposition that emotion is pleasure or pain dissociated from thought or knowledge was correct, however, by Aristotle’s more comprehensive appreciation of emotion as not merely physical but also cognitive, in which culture and emotions are reconciled.


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Cultural evolution: Subsistence and social learning

Social learning is a crucial building block of human culture, but how and why do people vary in their propensity to learn from others? Experiments in Ethiopia suggest that pastoralists rely more on others’ knowledge than do horticulturalists.

Every day we face decisions. Walk to work or take the bus? Drink red or white wine with dinner? Visit the zoo or the museum on your day off? Recent research has focused on two ways of determining the best option when making these sorts of decisions. We could use what’s known as individual learning — try each option, observe the outcomes, and go with whichever tends to give the best results. Or, we could use ‘social learning’ — observe what others are doing and go with, say, the most popular option.



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Prehistoric children worked as brickmakers and miners

Bones and artifacts suggest that kids labored at skilled tasks thousands of years ago.

A surge of interest in the archaeology of childhood is revealing details of the skilled and sometimes back-breaking work that youngsters performed hundreds to thousands of years ago.


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Cultural heritage teaching about climate change

Museums, archaeological sites, and historical buildings are rarely included in conversations about climate change, which tend to focus on the wider impact and global threats to our contemporary world. Yet these threats impact everything, from local cultural practices to iconic sites of outstanding universal value. In light of this, it’s worth exploring the relationship between our heritage and the changing global climate in more detail.

More powerful storms, flooding, desertification and even the melting of permafrost are already destroying important sites at an alarming rate. While we race to preserve or record these places before they are lost forever, it is also the case that some sites – especially those that are or have been highly adaptable and flexible – can also be assets in understanding adaptation strategies more generally.


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Cultural evolution of normative motivations for sustainable behaviour

An emerging literature on the evolution of culture can offer new explanations for how norms encourage or obstruct sustainable practices. In particular, the dual-inheritance theory describes how interactions between genetic and cultural evolution give rise, in part, to prosociality. Based on this theory, we identify the concept of normative motivation — internalized desires to follow and enforce norms. We discuss the utility of this concept in progressing two major research agendas across the social and behavioral sciences: the impact of motivation on cognition and normative behavior, and the influence of norms on the policy process. Key contributions from considering norms from this evolutionary perspective include: (1) an improved model of the motivations that lead individuals to follow norms, (2) clarification of how and when incentives successfully generate motivations favoring sustainability and (3) new ideas for leveraging the influence of norms in public policy beyond financial incentives and education campaigns.


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