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Archaeologist Believes Evolution Of Human 'Super-Brain' Tied to Development Of Bipedalism, Tool-Making
Sketch of a figurine head by Andrey Sinitsyn.


BOULDER, CO.- Scientists seeking to understand the origin of the human mind may want to look to honeybees - not ancestral apes - for at least some of the answers, according to a University of Colorado Boulder archaeologist.

CU-Boulder Research Associate John Hoffecker said there is abundant fossil and archaeological evidence for the evolution of the human mind, including its unique power to create a potentially infinite variety of thoughts expressed in the form of sentences, art and technologies. He attributes the evolving power of the mind to the formation of what he calls the "super-brain," or collective mind, an event that took place in Africa no later than 75,000 years ago.

An internationally known archaeologist who has worked at sites in Europe and the Arctic, Hoffecker said the formation of the super-brain was a consequence of a rare ability to share complex thoughts among individual brains. Among other creatures on Earth, the honeybee may be the best example of an organism that has mastered the trick of communicating complex information - including maps of food locations and information on potential nest sites from one brain to another - using their intricate "waggle dance."

"Humans obviously evolved a much wider range of communication tools to express their thoughts, the most important being language," said Hoffecker, a fellow at CU's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. "Individual human brains within social groups became integrated into a neurologic Internet of sorts, giving birth to the mind."

While anatomical fossil evidence for the capability of speech is controversial, the archaeological discoveries of symbols coincides with a creative explosion in the making of many kinds of artifacts. Abstract designs scratched on mineral pigment show up in Africa about 75,000 years ago and are widely accepted by archaeologists as evidence for symbolism and language. "From this point onward there is a growing variety of new types of artifacts that indicates a thoroughly modern capacity for novelty and invention."

The roots of the mind and the super-brain lie deep in our past and are likely tied to fundamental aspects of our evolution like bipedalism and making stone tools, he said. It was from the making of tools that early humans first developed their ability to project complex thoughts or mental representations outside the individual brain - our own version of the honeybee waggle dance, Hoffecker said.

While crude stone tools crafted by human ancestors beginning about 2.5 million years ago likely were an indirect consequence of bipedalism - which freed up the hands for new functions - the first inklings of a developing super-brain likely began about 1.6 million years ago when early humans began crafting stone hand axes, thought by Hoffecker and others to be one of the first external representations of internal thought.

Ancient hand axes achieved "exalted status" as mental representations since they bear little resemblance to the natural objects they were made from - generally cobbles or rock fragments. "They reflect a design or mental template stored in the nerve cells of the brain and imposed on the rock, and they seemed to have emerged from a strong feedback relationship among the hands, eyes, brains and the tools themselves," he said.





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