Conformism in prehistoric societies

Some microlithis from the North/West Sahara-traces of a long standing conformism in the production of such artifacts.

Prehistoric archaeology is often modeled through the paradigm of the collective. Conformistic collectives adapt to their environment and their decisions are made in the interest of reproductive success, risk minimization and competitive advantage. In this paradigm the actions and reactions of individuals are often reduced to passive and mechanistic actions.

Conformism stands for security: Security about the individual’s position within a group, security about the role that the individual has to play in its society, security in knowing how to do things-for example how to prepare hunting weaponry.

Conformism stands for stasis. Conformists refuse anything new and believe in the normative power of the facts. Non-Conformists imagine another kind of making their world. They may fail, and indeed often do, but if they have the creative power for convincing innovations, such innovations will be quickly adapted by others. Therefore Non-Conformists have indeed the virtue to change the world. What looks like a linear process in the archaeological record in retrospect is in reality an iterative adventure of Non-Conformists.

When the first microliths for composite weapons appeared in the MSA, these small artifacts were certainly considered as an innovation. The Howiesons Poort industry in S-Africa flourished at 65-60 k.a. (that are: 170 human generations) and vanished again. Earlier suggestions about climatic conditions, which should have triggered these processes, now seem to be an oversimplification. Such theories deny that individuals not only adapt to their environment but also manipulate and create their world according to their needs.

The Epipaleolithic in North Africa may have been invented at place or spread from the Levant or the Nile valley and the lithic inventories remained considerable stable over 15000 years. The archeological data, until now, can neither trace the origin of the Epipaleolithic, nor the individual action that created such tools for the first time. Unfortunately currently high resolution archaeological data are only rarely used to trace individual actions….

It would be worth while to study paleolithic societies in terms of conformism / non-conformism. To my knowledge no explicit archeological / anthropological theory about this topic exists . Or is there anyone on the www who knows more ?

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2 Responses to Conformism in prehistoric societies

  1. Ber says:

    Dear Katzman: A very good 2012, and please continue this unique (sic) , sophisticated (sic) , rich (sic) and rewarding (sic) Paleo-blog! But, if I may ask, could you from now on add dimensions (or approximate dimensions) to the artifacts you picture and discuss, thus making it easier for us, who follow you, to gaudge them and comment? Cheers — Ber

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