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Pleistocene Exchange Networks as Evidence for the Evolution of Language

  • Ben Marwick (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 August 2003

Distances of raw material transportation reflect how hominid groups gather and exchange information. Early hominids moved raw materials short distances, suggesting a home range size, social complexity and communication system similar to primates in equivalent environments. After about 1.0 million years ago there was a large increase in raw material transfer distances, possibly a result of the emergence of the ability to pool information by using a protolanguage. Another increase in raw material transfer occurred during the late Middle Stone Age in Africa (after about 130,000 years ago), suggesting the operation of exchange networks. Exchange networks require a communication system with syntax, the use of symbols in social contexts and the ability to express displacement, which are the features of human language. Taking the Neanderthals as a case study, biological evidence and the results of computer simulations of the evolution of language, I argue for a gradual rather than catastrophic emergence of language coinciding with the first evidence of exchange networks.

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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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