Non-Modern Humans Were More Complex — and Artistic — Than We Thought

Marc Kissel: Rather than fetishizing the ability to make symbols, we should instead concentrate on how our ancestors found novel and innovative ways to create and share meaning. My colleague, Agustín Fuentes, and I recently published an open access database of the current evidence of human symbolic expression, concentrating on examples of the creation of beads, engraved objects, and the use of ochre. Using these data, we argue that by at least 300,000 years ago, members of the genus Homo were engaging in complex, creative thought and producing artifacts laden with meanings. To be clear, the examples that date prior to 200,000 years ago are far from definitive examples of symbolic thought. Yet, they demonstrate that the human cultural niche was changing.

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