This program was recorded at the 12th Annual Wonderfest, the San Francisco Bay Area Festival of Science.
Wonderfest's broad goals are best described by its mission statement: Through public discourse about provocative scientific questions, Wonderfest aspires to stimulate curiosity, promote careful reasoning, challenge unexamined beliefs, and encourage life-long learning.
Wonderfest achieves these ends by presenting series of scientific events to the general public. At most of these events, pairs of articulate and accomplished researchers discuss and debate compelling questions at the edge of scientific understanding.
David DeGusta is a Research Paleontologist at the Paleoanthropology Institute.
Henry Gilbert is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at California State University, East Bay.
David DeGusta, Research Paleontologist at the Paleoanthropology Institute, discusses how archaeologists are able to study the origins of human language through the archaeological record. He explains that language seems to have emerged around 50,000 years ago, and could be what helped modern humans triumph over the Neanderthals.
Anthropologists David DeGusta and Henry Gilbert discuss the evolutionary function of artistic expression. Gilbert suggests that artistry may have been a display of mental prowess to attract a mate, whereas DeGusta argues that it possibly served as a tool to promote organization.
Branch of anthropology that deals with the study of culture. The discipline uses the methods, concepts, and data of archaeology, ethnography, folklore, linguistics, and related fields in its descriptions and analyses of the diverse peoples of the world. Called social anthropology in Britain, its field of research was until the mid 20th century largely restricted to the small-scale (or primitive), non-Western societies that first began to be identified during the age of discovery. Today the field extends to all forms of human association, from village communities to corporate cultures to urban gangs. Two key perspectives used are those of holism (understanding society as a complex, interactive whole) and cultural relativism (the appreciation of cultural phenomena within their own context). Areas of study traditionally include social structure, law, politics, religion, magic, art, and technology.
Branch of anthropology concerned with the study of human evolution and human biological variation. Research on human evolution involves the discovery, analysis, and description of fossilized human remains. Two key goals are the identification of differences between humans and their human and nonhuman ancestors, and the clarification of the biological emergence of humankind. A variety of quantitative methods are used, including the comparative analysis of genetic codes. Research on biological variation among contemporary humans once relied heavily on the concept of race, but today principles of genetics and the analysis of such factors as blood type have largely eliminated race as a scientific category.
Neanderthals did have language skills i.m.h.o, because it was required for several reasons.
First of all, we must consider the setting in which they lived: big game hunting with hand (or thrusting) spears, in an icy climate with few resources.
Hunters had to sustain their families by exposing themselves to very dangerous adversaries in the form of huge wild animals.
The main question here is what was required for efficiency in survival and group sustainance.
Imagine the setting and look at how young boys were groing up to manhood.
Also, the best hunters undoubtedly had the highest status, providing the clan with insurance and possibly they were heroes too by saving the lives of other members during the hunt.
at some point a boy became a man; for the benefit of the clan (efficiency) he had to provide the clan with food instead of only consuming it.
The boy became a man by joining the hunt.
How was this done? Could he survive by only copying behaviour, learning the techniques of sneaking up on wild animals and thrusting spears with enough force and on the right spot, just by watching?
What good was it for the clan if such an initiate scared away a good prey, or worse, getting killed by a giant bear so that the next generation would count one hunter/provider less?
Such a dangerous way of hunting (direct contact) required an extraordinary organisation with several hunting techniques in order to reduce the risks and increase the chance of success. Strategically and tactically.
Several groups were needed to box in a wounded animal that fled, and possibly the initiates were given the task to join secondary or tertiary groups, thereby gaining field experience with less risk.
There was no time for trial and error, because an error with an unwounded big animal could mean instant death.
All this required instruction, sense of proportion, experience, skill, future sense, in short: efficiency in survival for the whole clan, in the broadest sense.
This could not be done without language - this information was passed on to the next generation, thousands of years.
It was certainly not like the chimps using a straw tool in order to eat harmless ants; this required a large scale and precise organisation that could only be learned in an active way.
About symbolism: language is not a necessity for symbolism; it is the abstract sense, the meaning that is given, which determines symbolic behaviour.
A flower on a grave says all without a word, and a picture says more than a thousand words.
At least, so they say...
Art can be used to document ideas like cave paintings may have been used for educational purpose. To pass on wisdom from generation to generation. The ones that had artists in their clan survived.
Art is just a precursor to language.