Sunday, August 03, 2014

Origins of Culture

One of the many mysteries of human evolution is the rather sudden flowering of culture about 50,000 years ago. In the two to three millions of years between humans developing simple stone tools and that date human technology and society seems to have evolved very slowly. After that date the pace of technological evolution sped up dramatically, art appeared, and humans apparently started living in larger groups. Humans anatomically similar to modern human seem to have been around since about 200,000 years ago, so what could account for the change?

Some researchers think they have found a key clue in a fairly subtle change in facial shape.

Humans started making art work when their personalities got gentler and their faces more feminine, a study suggests.

Researchers found that culture boomed around 50,000 years ago when there was an apparent reduction in testosterone.

This led people to have gentler personalities and saw the making of art and advanced tools become widespread.

...

Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke University anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri's work.

...

There are a lot of theories about why, after 150,000 years of existence, humans suddenly leapt forward in technology. Around 50,000 years ago, there is widespread evidence of producing bone and antler tools, heat-treated and flaked flint, projectile weapons, grindstones, fishing and birding equipment and a command of fire.

There are clues in both our close relatives and more distant ones in the animal kingdom that testosterone is an anti-cooperative hormone. Bonobo and elephant societies are female dominated, apparently because they cooperated better than males. Too much testosterone and competition seems to obliterate cooperation.