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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« Neanderthal Symbols | Main | The Selam Fossil »




Firstly, an inaccuracy: to my knowledge the record of Aboriginal occupation of Australia goes back 40,000 years fairly consistently. There are additional, scattered and disputed findings of up to 60,000 years. It was certainly not populated by modern humans at 75,000 years ago. Another inaccuracy is that there were more than one genetic grouping which came to Australia at different points in history (the earlier occupants are likely to be the ancestors of the Tasmanians).

Secondly, as Mithen points out in "The Singing Neanderthals", the vocal tract is actually more adapted to singing than speaking - you can sing louder than speak, for example, and infants pay more attention to music, and to musical aspects of speech than semantic aspects of speech. Similarly, it's unlikely that language just appeared out of the blue 75,000 years ago - there are likely to have been forerunners of language which were less grammatically and syntactic complex, but still more complex than what a bonobo could come up with.



Thanks Tim for posting the blog's first substantive comment. I am hoping that with such a controversial subject that the site gets a lot of back and forth.

As for your remarks:

1) My 75 thousand year remark was not about how long people had been in Australia. I said "By 75,000 years ago Homo sapiens was scattered. The last common ancestor of all today’s humans probably lived 125 to 200 thousand years ago, well before the Big Bang." The point is not that they were in Australia, but that we do not all share a common ancestor who lived only 75K years ago. Any mutations, speech-oriented or otherwise, appearing then would not be shared by the whole species.

2) Concerning “The Singing Neanderthals”: I’m hoping that each Friday’s listing will be a book review and this book will probably make it into one such post, although it seems like there is a river of books for me to choose from.


Firstly, you've picked an interesting topic area and I'm glad you've started the blog!

Secondly, my statement of inaccuracy was related to this quote: "One of the biggest weaknesses of the Big Bang theory is that H. sapiens was already scattered across the whole of Africa, Asia, Australia and much of Europe when the revolution was supposed to have occurred." I don't know the fossil record well enough to comment on the data elsewhere, but I don't doubt that anatomically modern humans were present around the world pre-"Big Bang", if it occurred. However, it's a mistake to assume that genetic changes are always reflected in skeletal remains, and I assume it is not yet clear whether the human anatomically modern remains reflect the ancestors of modern peoples in the regions. But I am agnostic as to what caused the 'Big Bang', so am just playing devil's advocate here. I have more to say, but um, my lift is here, and I may come back to this tomorrow.



Thanks for the clarification, and, as James Thurber put it, touché.

The date given for the cultural "Big Bang" varies. Tattersall's article was particularly recent. He wrote, "... at some time between, say 60 and 50 kyr ago, a speciation event occurred in the human lineage that gave rise to a new, symbolically expressive entity."

75,000 years ago is more common and I expect that date to keep sliding back.


You might be interested to follow the results of this conference:

which seeks to address the Chomsky, Hauser, Fitch claims that recursion is the only property exclusive to the human language faculty (all other properties being co-opted from independently-developed brain structures, as Tattersall conjectures).


I believe Klein and McBrearty are both correct to some extent but both overstate their claims. As with evolution in general, human cultural evolution undergoes periods of relatively rapid change interspersed with relatively long periods of stability/slow change. In human evolution periods of major rapid change appear to generally coincide with severe climatic conditions, such as the population crashes associated with the last ice age c60-80ka.

The "UP revolution" is actually a massive demographic expansion during a warm interstadial c40-50ka, associated with cultural innovations that undoubtedly developed during the preceding cold arid period. During this period people reached all of Eurasia and Australia - claims of earlier arrivals are highly unlikely. A key paper debunking these claims is...

O’Connell, J.F. & J. Allen, 1998. When did humans first arrive in Greater Australia and why is it important to know? Evolutionary Anthropology 6(4), 132–46.

They have also published a more recent paper on the same topic



I just have a couple questions regarding the cultural big bang... 1. why did it occur 40-50,00 years ago? 2. what was the subsequent impact it had on the biological evolution of hominids? 3. specifically, what were the cultural innovations? 4. what was the driving natural selection and what was it focused on?

Thank you for your help!



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