Linguistic implications of the earliest personal ornaments

Francesco d'Errico and Marian Vanhaeren

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Linguistic implications of the earliest personal ornaments

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This article shows the role of ornaments in understanding the evolution of the modern language. The analysis of a geospatial database recording the occurrence of 157 bead types at ninety-eight Aurignacian sites has identified a definite cline in ornament types, sweeping counter-clockwise from the Northern Plains to the Eastern Alps, via Western and Southern Europe, through fourteen geographically cohesive sets of sites. The sets most distant from each other do not share any bead types but share personal ornament types with intermediate sets. Beadwork represents a technology specific to humans, which signals their ability to project social information to members of the same or neighboring groups by means of a shared symbolic language. Symbols applied to the physical body ascribe collectively-defined social status to the wearers that can be understood by the other members of the group only if the latter share the complex codes that establish a link between the worn items, the place and way they are displayed on the body, the social categorization they signal, and the symbolic meaning carried by the objects. The presence of personal ornaments at late Neanderthal sites has been variously interpreted as the consequence of acculturation of local Neanderthals by incoming Aurignacians, as independent cultural evolution of Neanderthals before the spread of the Aurignacian, or as cross-cultural fertilization of late Neanderthals and Aurignacian Moderns.

Keywords: modern language; geospatial database; symbols; ornament types; cultural evolution

Article.  1484 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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