NewsAnthropology

No Last Word on Language Origins

Science  20 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5393, pp. 1455
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5393.1455

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Summary

Fossils show that the raw brain capacity for complex language, along with the necessary mouth and throat anatomy, were probably in place before 150,000 years ago. But most of the behaviors thought to depend on language--toolmaking, burials, and the creation of living sites and art and personal adornment--did not appear until 40,000 years ago. Into this time gap fall rare hints of modern behavior--burials and glimpses of trade, art, and sophisticated tools--that have allowed some archaeologists to argue that humans were speaking, and thinking the complex thoughts that go with speech, long before they left a plentiful record of these activities. Others, however, argue that there is no unequivocal evidence for modern human behavior before about 50,000 years ago.