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The Social Origins of Language$
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Daniel Dor, Chris Knight, and Jerome Lewis

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199665327

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199665327.001.0001

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The red thread: pigment use and the evolution of collective ritual

The red thread: pigment use and the evolution of collective ritual

(p.208) 16 The red thread: pigment use and the evolution of collective ritual
The Social Origins of Language

Ian Watts

Oxford University Press

This chapter proposes two stages to the evolution of collective ritual, as female reproductive costs tracked Middle Pleistocene brain size increase. Preliminary evidence is presented that Stage 1 — with collective deception tied to the here-and-now — can be inferred from at least ~500 kya (potentially extending back ~800 kya). Stage two — with collective deception no longer context-dependent — culminates in the world’s earliest religious tradition, appearing quite abruptly (in southern Africa) at around 170 kya. From this point on, ‘blood’-coded community-wide ritual is ubiquitous and habitual, its costs underwriting the coevolution of cheap words. As an evolutionary stage, however, it correlates with the final phases of encephalization in African and Eurasian lineages, which are not synchronous. The case is developed by testing the more unlikely predictions about pigment use derived from the Female Cosmetic Coalitions model of the evolution of symbolic culture, refined by the ‘seasonality thermostat’ sub-hypothesis. This interpretation of the archaeological and fossil records challenges the claim that ‘modern language’ was established by half a million years ago.

Keywords:   bodypaint, brain size increase, Fauresmith, Middle Stone Age, ochre, ritual, pigments, specularite, Wonderwerk Cave

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