Cognitive archaeology: what is it and what does it investigate?
Let's see what this discipline is and how it studies the cognitive processes of ancestral cultures.
How has human thought evolved? how is it possible to know what prehistoric humans thought? is it possible that they resembled today's primitive tribes? to what extent do these tribes serve as models for understanding prehistoric symbolic thought?
All these questions are the subject of study in cognitive archaeologywhich seeks to understand how cognitive abilities, especially symbolic thinking, developed in early Homo sapiens. We will now take a closer look at what this interesting discipline is all about and how it tries to find out these questions.
What is cognitive archaeology?
Cognitive archaeology is a discipline that tries to understand, as far as possible tries to know, as far as possible, the way of thinking of prehistoric cultures.. It tries to find out what kind of characteristics were present in the mental processes of the earliest Arabian cultures in the evolution of Homo sapiens, including concepts such as space, time and the idea of self, us and them.
Basically, it tries to understand how human cognitive processes have been emerging in the history of evolution, and in what form they have appeared, relating it to anatomical aspects, especially of the phonatory apparatus and the skull, in addition to analyzing the fossil record and archaeological remains of these same cultures.
Objectives and theory
The main objective of cognitive archaeology is the archaeological study, based on the psychobiological model. It attempts to understand the origin and development of human behavior throughout history.
The idea behind this discipline is that, if you take the remains, especially trousseau, cave paintings and jewelry of primitive cultures, they can be interpreted as behavior, a behavior that, behind it, had to have symbolic capabilities, they can be interpreted as behavior, a behavior that, behind it, had to have symbolic capabilities.The product of a whole cognitive processing. This mental processing had to occur in response to stimuli external to the individual, both social (family, other members of the group and members of other groups) or environmental (changes in climate, scarce food...) that are felt or received from the environment in which one lives.
Voluntary human behavior and thought are two phenomena that are clearly related. This is an almost obvious idea for most of the population. When we are going to do something, as long as it is not something automated or the product of a reflex action, there is a procedure behind it. When we paint a picture or make a ceramic pot, we are not doing it automatically, we have to think about everything.
This same idea would be shared with cognitive archaeology when studying the artistic remains of prehistoric cultures. When one of the first human beings was painting a wildebeest on a wall or making a necklace of bones, behind this behavior, there had to be a cognitive process, there necessarily had to be a cognitive process. In the first case, the artist must have painted the wildebeest to represent a reality, such as that in that area there were these animals or that one should be careful with them. In the second case, the making of the necklace could have some religious meaning, or be a symbol of power.
Although cognitive archaeology is based on the idea that it is possible to know what kind of thinking prehistoric people must have had, the truth is that this can never be known one hundred percent reliably.
What does this discipline take into account?
The current discipline of cognitive archaeology makes use of the psychobiological modelthat is, the one that understands that the human being is an organism with a Biological and cultural nature. This is why human behavior must be understood in an interdisciplinary way, combining knowledge from both health and social sciences, such as evolutionary biology, neurology, psychology and sociology.
When studying and hypothesizing about how the evolution of human thought and symbolic capacity occurred, the following aspects are taken into account:
1. Evolutionary level
At the evolutionary level, the following are taken into account the anatomical characteristics of fossils of different Homo sapiens.
The evolutionary process is progressive, rarely sudden. This means that we did not go from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens overnight, but rather there was a gradual process that involved changes in anatomical characteristics, including the phonatory apparatus and cranial capacity.
Our species has been changing anatomically over the millennia, and this has been seen in culture. One of the hypotheses put forward when analyzing the increasing complexity of human cultures has been that it has gone hand in hand with an increase in their cognitive capacities.
2. Neurological characteristics
Related to the previous point, the human brain has been the result of a long and continuous evolutionary process, which has contributed to the fact that it has been acquiring a larger size and more folds to increase its surface area..
This, together with improvements in the phonatory apparatus thanks to bipedalism, has been what has been able to house the symbolic capacity, which is the basis for thought and language.
Thanks to this symbolic capacity, the human being has been able to create abstract concepts, in addition to leaving the spatio-temporal immediacy, that is to say, to stop thinking only in the here and now.
3. Influence of external factors
The human being, both the present and the most primitive, has been determined by what was written in his genes.. Their basic intelligence, an aspect that we could well call quantitative, was something inherited.
However, the most primitive cultures, as with the children who go to school today, were influenced by external factors, that is, their environment and society. This is what would give them a qualitative difference intellectually speaking.
The members who grew up in a particular group received influences from it in the form of culture, actively participating in it: they participated in rites, buried their dead according to how the rest of the congeners did it.They participated actively in it: they took part in rites, they buried their dead according to how the rest of the congeners did it, they used painting and body accessories...
In cognitive archaeology, we have tried to see the regional differences among the regional differences between groups of Homo sapiens primitive Homo sapiens from their remainsIn cognitive archaeology it has been tried to see the regional differences between groups of primitive Homo sapiens from their remains, seeing the existence of different cultures, although most of them with a similar level of development.
4. Psychobiological organization
Once the human being acquires the ability to create symbols with their meaning, as is the case of language, the human being is able to use his intelligence to solve cultural or social problems.
As we have already seen, although the study of cognitive archaeology is quite exhaustive, there are doubts as to whether it is possible to analyze and obtain information about the thinking of early humans from their fossil remains and tools, there are doubts as to whether it is possible to analyze and obtain information about the thinking of early humans from their fossil remains and tools.Is it possible to know for sure how human cognitive capacities evolved from what they left behind?
As we were saying, the idea behind this discipline is that by analyzing both cultural remains and the bones of early humans it is possible, through inferences, to know what their symbolic capacity must have been like. Moreover, this is done by relating it to current primitive cultures, i.e., tribal cultures, some of them agraphic, which are presumed to live in a very similar way to how prehistoric cultures must have lived. It must also be said that this conception is somewhat prejudiced.
However, there are those who believe that, while it is true that the art and artifacts left behind by early humans is a clue to how they might think. art and objects left by early humans is a clue to how they might think, there is really no guarantee that they gave them the function that is modernly attributed to them.there is really no guarantee that they gave them the function that is modernly attributed to them.
- Rivera-Arrizabalaga, Á. (2005), Arqueología cognitiva: Origen del simbolismo humano, Madrid: Arco Libros. ISBN 84-7635-623-4
- Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. (1998), Arqueología. Key concepts, Madrid: Ediciones Akal. ISBN 84-460-0234-5
- Gamble, C. (2002), Arqueología Básica, Barcelona: Ediciones Ariel. ISBN 978-84-344-6679-1
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)