Archaeology and the Origins of Modern Humans: European and African Perspectives

Paul Mellars

in The Speciation of Modern Homo Sapiens

Published by British Academy

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780197263112
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734885 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Archaeology and the Origins of Modern Humans: European and African Perspectives

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This chapter outlines the archaeological evidence for the relative recency and abruptness of appearance of artefacts associated with the creativity of modern humans. It compares the archaeological evidence associated with the appearance of anatomically modern humans in Europe and Africa. In Europe, there is a rapid appearance of new behavioural elements that are often seen to represent a ‘revolution’ in behavioural and perhaps cognitive terms, centred on c.43–35,000 years before present (BP). In Africa, new behavioural elements seem to appear in a more gradual, mosaic fashion but show many of the distinctive features of European Upper Palaeolithic culture by at least 70–80,000 (BP), including seemingly explicit evidence for fully symbolic expression. The central problem remains that of assessing how far these well-documented changes in the archaeological record reflect not only major shifts in behavioural patterns, but also underlying shifts in the cognitive capacities for behaviour, including increasing complexity in the structure of language.

Keywords: modern humans; archaeological evidence; European Upper Palaeolithic; cognitive capacities; human behavioural development; Africa

Chapter.  5950 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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