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Two articles on human evolution

Two interesting articles in the December 2012 issue of Current Antrhopology :
- Michael Tomasello, Alicia P. Melis, Claudio Tennie, Emily Wyman, and Esther Herrmann: “Two Key Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation: The Interdependence Hypothesis.
- John Gowlett, Clive Gamble, and Robin Dunbar: “Human Evolution and the Archaeology of the Social Brain.”
For the abstracts,

Michael Tomasello, Alicia P. Melis, Claudio Tennie, Emily Wyman, and Esther Herrmann:  “Two Key Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation: The Interdependence Hypothesis.”
Abstract: Modern theories of the evolution of human cooperation focus mainly on altruism. In contrast, we propose that humans’ species-unique forms of cooperation—as well as their species-unique forms of cognition, communication, and social life—all derive from mutualistic collaboration (with social selection against cheaters). In a first step, humans became obligate collaborative foragers such that individuals were interdependent with one another and so had a direct interest in the well-being of their partners. In this context, they evolved new skills and motivations for collaboration not possessed by other great apes (joint intentionality), and they helped their potential partners (and avoided cheaters). In a second step, these new collaborative skills and motivations were scaled up to group life in general, as modern humans faced competition from other groups. As part of this new group-mindedness, they created cultural conventions, norms, and institutions (all characterized by collective intentionality), with knowledge of a specific set of these marking individuals as members of a particular cultural group. Human cognition and sociality thus became ever more collaborative and altruistic as human individuals became ever more interdependent. (full text here)

John Gowlett, Clive Gamble, and Robin Dunbar. “Human Evolution and the Archaeology of the Social Brain.”
Abstract: The picture of human evolution has been transformed by new evidence in recent years. but contributing disciplines seem to have difficulty in sharing knowledge on a common basis. The disciplines producing primary data in paleoanthropology scarcely reach out to a broader picture and are often bypassed by writers in other disciplines. Archaeology is encouraged by its material evidence to project a view that ‘what you see is what there was’: by definition, there can be only a late flowering of human abilities. Yet there is a vital alternative paleontological record of the early hominins that gives as important information about their brains and suggests that brains become large and complex far earlier than that late material complexity might imply. How, then, to account for the large brains acting far back in time? Evolutionary psychology, in the form of the social brain hypothesis, claims that these large brains were concerned with managing a far-reaching social life. In becoming human, those brains did not merely become larger, but of necessity they took on new socialized perspectives, a domestication of emotional capacities allowing greater insights and collaboration. We argue that there is at least a 2-million-year social record that must be made part of mainstream interpretation.

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