Thames & Hudson
November 17, 1996
Here is an exhilarating intellectual performance, in the tradition of Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind and Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct. On the way to showing how the world of our ancient ancestors shaped our modern modular mind, Steven Mithen shows one provocative insight after another as he answers a series of fascinating questions:
- Were our brains hard-wired in the Pleistocene era by the needs of hunter-gatherers?
- When did religious beliefs first emerge?
- Why were the first paintings made by humankind so technically accomplished and expressive?
- What can the sexual habits of chimpanzees tell us about the prehistory of the modern mind?
This is the first archaeological account to support the new modular concept of the mind. The concept, promulgated by cognitive and evolutionary psychologists, views the mind as a collection of specialized intelligences or “cognitive domains,” somewhat like a Swiss army knife with its specialized blades and tools. Arguing that only archaeology can answer many of the key questions raised by this new concept, Steven Mithen delineates a three-phase sequence for the mind’s evolution over six million years – from early Homo in Africa to the ice-age Neanderthals to our modern modular minds.
Here is an intriguing and challenging explanation of what it means to be human, a bold new theory about the origins and nature of the mind.
Steven Mithen has taught at Cambridge University and is currently Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Reading. An active field archaeologist, he is at present directing excavations of early prehistoric settlements on the Hebridean Islands of western Scotland. His previous book, Thoughtful Foragers: A Study of Prehistoric Decision-Making, achieved widespread critical acclaim.