Symbolism in the middle paleolithic: a phenomenological account of practice-embedded symbolic behavior

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The existence and extent of symbolism among Middle Palaeolithic pre-modern humans present a significant point of controversy. As with any scientific dispute, there is a substantial conceptual component to these discussions, here in particular concerning the concept of symbolism, which is often poorly defined. The present chapter approaches the problem from a different, philosophical, angle. It opens with a brief reflection on the phenomenological method in philosophy and its largely unexplored potential for paleoanthropology and evolutionary psychology. The midpart develops a phenomenological framework involving separate levels of expressive and symbolic behavior. It is argued that Middle Palaeolithic pre-modern humans, given the current evidence, are best understood as capable of symbolic behavior, but that symbol use is still tied to expressive behavior and shared practices in the so-called living present. It is further argued that such “practice-embedded symbolism” represents a necessary stage in the evolution of symbolism in the hominin lineage, as its use and interpretation are significantly less cognitively demanding than the free symbolic activity of behaviorally modern humans. The final section reviews evidence for the decorative use of pigment and beadwork in Middle Palaeolithic communities. It is argued that while their production plausibly relied on practice-embedded symbols, free symbolism in the modern sense need not be presupposed, and it is unlikely that either pigment or beadwork had itself a symbolic function.
Originele taal-2English
TitelOxford Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology
RedacteurenThomas Wynn, Karenleigh A. Overmann, Frederick L. Coolidge
UitgeverijOxford University Press
ISBN van elektronische versie9780191918506
ISBN van geprinte versie9780192895950
StatusPublished - 22-mei-2023

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