Myths of the Modern Man

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See 1 question about Myths and Modern Man…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. Feb 28, Krista the Krazy Kataloguer rated it really liked it Shelves: read-adult-nonfiction , read-folktales-traditional-lit. This was the textbook for a mythology course I took in high school. It presented the myths to me in a way I'd never thought about them before, i. May 05, Edward Pissmeoff rated it really liked it. Mar 30, Nemo Erehwon rated it really liked it. I like reading myths, but I never liked Joseph Campbell.

His books seem to be about how Joseph Campbell views the many myths of the many societies. Just tell me the myths. This book does just that. Published in , "Myths And Modern Man" has a new-agey feel to it, but the myths it contains are competently told. It does demonstrate the sexism inherent in many of these myths.

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Yet some technologies are not represented in the African sample. For example, more than 30, years ago in Australia, and later elsewhere, people began grinding and polishing the edges of stone tools. Such grinding and polishing reduces friction during work, making cutting tools more efficient to use and resharpen. In the New World, ancestral Native American flintknappers deployed a wide range of bifacial-core technologies fundamentally different from those seen in eastern Africa. They used these tools in contexts ranging from hunter-gatherer campsites on the Great Plains to Mesoamerican city-states like Teotihuacan.

Differences in recent stone-tool technology reflect variability in adaptive strategies. No anthropologists in their right minds would attribute this variability to evolutionary differences among recent humans. If this kind of explanation makes so little sense in the present, what possible value can it have for explaining past behavioral variability among Homo sapiens?

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The lithic evidence reviewed here challenges the hypothesis that there were significant behavioral differences between the earliest and more recent members of our species in eastern Africa. Obviously, there is more to human behavioral variability than what is reflected in stone tools. But it is a step forward.

Myths and Modern Man by Barbara Dodds Stanford

This emphasis on variability will gain strength if and when it is supported by more detailed analyses of the stone tools and by other archaeological evidence. One could view these findings as just another case of precocious modern behavior by early Homo sapiens in Africa, but I think they have a larger lesson to teach us. After all, something is only precocious if it is unexpected. The hypothesis that there were skeletally modern-looking humans whose behavioral capacities differed significantly from our own is not supported by uniformitarian principles explanations of the past based on studies of the present , by evolutionary theory or by archaeological evidence.

There are no known populations of Homo sapiens with biologically constrained capacities for behavioral variability.

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Generations of anthropologists have sought in vain for such primitive people in every corner of the world and have consistently failed to find them. The parsimonious interpretation of this failure is that such humans do not exist. Figure 7. Solid circles represent sites with evidence based on large numbers of well-dated artifacts. Hollow circles indicate evidence based on a small number of artifacts or on artifacts that were not recovered by systematic excavation. It is important to note that four of five modes were present from the earliest sites onwards. Only geometric microlithic technology appears solely in recent contexts.

Nor is there any reason to believe that behaviorally archaic Homo sapiens ever did exist. If there ever were significant numbers of Homo sapiens individuals with cognitive limitations on their capacity for behavioral variability, natural selection by intraspecific competition and predation would have quickly and ruthlessly winnowed them out. In the unforgiving Pleistocene environments in which our species evolved, reproductive isolation was the penalty for stupidity, and lions and wolves were its cure.


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In other words: No villages, no village idiots. Dividing Homo sapiens into modern and archaic or premodern categories and invoking the evolution of behavioral modernity to explain the difference has never been a good idea. Like the now-discredited scientific concept of race, it reflects hierarchical and typological thinking about human variability that has no place in a truly scientific anthropology.

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Indeed, the concept of behavioral modernity can be said to be worse than wrong, because it is an obstacle to understanding. Time, energy and research funds that could have been spent investigating the sources of variability in particular behavioral strategies and testing hypotheses about them have been wasted arguing about behavioral modernity. Anthropology has already faced this error.

Writing in the early 20th century, the American ethnologist Franz Boas railed against evolutionary anthropologists who ranked living human societies along an evolutionary scale from primitive to advanced. His arguments found an enthusiastic reception among his colleagues, and they remain basic principles of anthropology to this day. A similar change is needed in the archaeology of human origins. We need to stop looking at artifacts as expressions of evolutionary states and start looking at them as byproducts of behavioral strategies.

Figure 8. Archaeological evidence now shows that our species has always possessed the capacity for wide behavioral variability. The differences we discover among those strategies will lead us to new and very different kinds of questions than those we have asked thus far. For instance, do similar environmental circumstances elicit different ranges of behavioral variability? Are there differences in the stability of particular behavioral strategies? Are certain strategies uniquely associated with particular hominin species, and if so, why? By focusing on behavioral variability, archaeologists will move toward a more scientific approach to human-origins research.

The concept of behavioral modernity, in contrast, gets us nowhere. Even today, a caveman remains the popular image of what a prehistoric person looked like.

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Myths and Modern Man

This individual usually is shown with enlarged eyebrows, a projecting face, long hair and a beard. The stereotypical caveman is inarticulate and dim-witted, and possesses a limited capacity for innovation. In a striking case of life imitating art, recent archaeological discoveries are overturning long-standing misconceptions about early human behavior. View the discussion thread. Skip to main content. Login Register. Page DOI: Photograph courtesy of the author. Photograph courtesy of Michael Day. Illustration by Tom Dunne. Bibliography Bar-Yosef, O.

The Upper Paleolithic revolution. Annual Review of Anthropology — Clark, G.


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World Prehistory: A New Synthesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Klein, R. The Human Career , third edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.