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Title: Getting a handle on it : a first step towards understanding the cognitive evolutionary processes underlying changes in the archaeological record that relate to Pliocene and Pleistocene hand-held tool and hafted tool technologies
Author: Fairlie, J. E.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7428 4448
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2017
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The main aim of this project is to be able to describe the changes in cognitive ability that have to take place to enable a hominin group that was formerly only able to produce assemblages consisting of reductive or knapped hand-held stone tools, to become a group able to produce a mixed assemblage containing both reductive hand-held tools and also combinatorial hafted tools. Unlike reductive stone tools, hafted tools have pre-processed separate parts that are engineered to fit together to form a single object. Secondary project aims immediately became necessary to support this main aim. The first was to describe the two different groups of tools in a way that showed them as different stages of the same technological dynamic of change. The second was to describe how best to define the over-used word ‘cognition’ in evolutionary terms. The third was to describe how such cognition might change over time in biological terms and also in terms of new cognitive and action potential. It was then necessary to analyse the different technologies included in the period of change considered between 3.3Mya to 0.03Mya, with particular emphasis on the transition between Early to Middle Stone Age and hafted technologies in both Africa and Eurasia. This, and the nature of the cognitive theory chosen as most promising for the project, required the innovation of a new analytical method which focussed on the motor-action or gestural sequences of the technology manufacturer rather than on the finished morphology of the artefacts themselves. Each tool-type gestural sequence was manually coded and then carefully analysed in order to identify gestural pattern commonalities and changes over time. Results show changes in the gestural patterns across the different coded technologies which suggest that evolutionary change is gradual and cumulative, but with moments of emergence when component parts come together to form something new and literally greater than the sum of its parts. Cognitive change is shown to move between a fast and highly effective but implicit, non-language-based cognitive system that relies heavily on rhythmic repetition (early knapping technologies), to a newer system that retains its original ability to use rhythmic repetition but can also incorporate conscious moments of planning, high-level action sequencing, and single discrete actions connected with more derived brain-body systems. This new method of analysis amounts to an exciting innovation that offers up new opportunities to research the evolution of cognition in a more holistic framework both within a single species, and also between different species, particularly of course between modern humans, hominins and modern great apes.
Supervisor: Barham, Lawrence ; Grove, Matt ; Meyer, Georg Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral