Sede Boker: Against the “behavioral modernity-paradigm”

A simple scraper and a borer-like biface . Two isolated findings from the Negev at Sede Boker. Were these artifacts produced by modern  or archaic humans? This seems to be a strange question, because both tools are within the range of behavioral variability of the last 300000 years

The concept of behavioral modernity “, a quality supposedly unique to Homo sapiens first, proposed by European Researchers 25 years ago, and now en vogue also within the Africanists scene, is one example how scientific paradigms can be lead to a dead end.

In fact the concept of behavioral modernity seems to be the renaissance of the well known prescientific narrative of “them and us“or “civilization and barbarity”. The dichotomy between “modern” vs. “archaic” is obtrusively stressed in always every paper that is centered on the MSA or on “transitional” industries.

If we simply dismiss the deductive “behavioral modernity-paradigm” we could discuss questions that are of real importance for the paleoanthropology of the Genus Homo, without any loss of perception. One does not need to invoke a “human revolution” to account for changes during the Paleolithic, which are explicable in terms of well-understood principles of behavioral ecology. I would plead for inductive concepts, which are surely somewhat more modest, but will probably lead to better and testable hypotheses.

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2 Responses to Sede Boker: Against the “behavioral modernity-paradigm”

  1. Breakout says:

    I also don’t think that there is much future for those dichotomies. Recent papers like Shea’s “Homo sapiens Is as Homo sapiens Was” (2011) and Zilhao’s “Aliens from Outer Time? Why the “Human Revolution” Is Wrong, and Where Do We Go from Here?” (2011) seem to eventually toss those theories in the “history of research”-chapters after they already have been refuted earlier by now “classical” papers like the one by McBrearty and Brooks (2000).

    In case you haven’t read them so far (though your post sounds like you have):

  2. Katzman says:

    Thanks. I have the privilege of a university access for most of the literature. My comments were stimulated by the recent paper of Anders Högberg and Lars Larsson, who present the impressive MSA-material of the Hollow Rock Shelter, Western Cape Province, South Africa

    Anyhow they unnecessarily wedged their data into the “behavioural modernity” concept. I think that Zilhao’s approach is too much concentrated on the Sapiens-Neanderthal debate. I was pleased that Shea finally decided to refute the behavioral modernity-paradigm, although I found his proposal for a research agenda that “focused on of human behavioral variability” a little bit vaguely. But first of all I think it is important to problematize the current paradigm, just to get an unbiased view for the archaeological data.

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