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Behavioral modernity

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Anthropologists, archeologists, and sociologists use the term behavioral modernity to refer to a list of traits that distinguish present day humans and their recent ancestors both from living primates and from other extinct hominid lineages.[1] While it remains an influential idea in paleoanthropological contexts, John J. Shea has recently characterised the concept as "qualitative, essentialist, and a historical artifact of the European origins of Paleolithic research."[2]


In paleoanthropology, the idea of behavioral modernity is associated with the belief that there are significant differences between the oldest Homo sapiens and populations younger than 50 kya.[2] It is often defined as the point at which Homo sapiens began to demonstrate a reliance on symbolic thought and to express cultural creativity.[1][3] The idea has recently come under siege; J. Shea writes: "The strongest reason for discarding 'behavioral modernity' and 'modern human behavior' is that they lack analytical precision."[4] In the paper, he proposes that the concept be entirely replaced by the more quantitative measurement of behavioral variability.[2] Behavioral modernity is also sometimes called the "Upper Paleolithic Revolution". In reference to this, revisionists Sally McBrearty and Alison Brooks referred to it as "the revolution that wasn't," pushing back the origins of modern behavior to the Middle Stone Age.[5]

The difference between behaviorally modern and anatomically modern humans, or even species like Homo erectus and the Neanderthals, is a subtle one, since even 300kya modern humans in Africa were conducting trade and using pigments.[6] The earliest known example of doodling comes from an engraving scratched onto a shell over 500kya by an unknown Homo erectus individual,[7] and some people think that erectus invented the earliest boats and rafts.[8]

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 See the Wikipedia article on Behavioral modernity.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Shea, J. J. (2011) Homo sapiens is as Homo sapiens was
  3. See the Wikipedia article on thought.
  5. Sally McBrearty and Alison S. Brooks. (2000) The Revolution That Wasn't: A New Interpretation of the Origin Modern Human Behavior. Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 39, pp. 453–563
  6. "Long-distance stone transport and pigment use in the earliest Middle Stone Age". Science 360 (6384): 90–94. 2018. PMID 29545508. 
  7. "Homo erectus made world's oldest doodle 500,000 years ago" - Nature News
  8. Bednarik, R. G. (1998). "An experiment in Pleistocene seafaring". The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 27 (2): 139–149.