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About the Author

Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Head of the School of Human and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading.

Obras de Steven Mithen

Associated Works

The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe (1994) — Contribuinte, algumas edições383 cópias, 1 resenha
The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution (2012) — Contribuinte — 20 cópias


Conhecimento Comum



Imagine for a moment that our ancestors, many tens of thousands of years ago, all trooped up a gangplank and then flew by spaceship to a different planet. Well, in effect, that’s exactly what we’ve done as a species—the Earth of today is as different from that earlier Earth as an alien world (and it’s us who have largely changed it of course, to suit ourselves and at the expense of nearly everything else that lives here). But inside our heads we still have the original brains and minds: the human mind wasn’t shaped by this modern alien world, and to understand much of why it is the way it is it makes a lot of sense (or so it seems to me at least) to look back at the world which did shape it.
    By the time The Prehistory of the Mind was written (1996) evolutionary psychology was already on its way to becoming a subject in its own right—psychologists drawing on archaeological evidence. Steven Mithen was an archaeologist doing all this the other way around: “Rather than having archaeology play the supporting role, I want it to set the agenda … Indeed, many archaeologists now feel confident that the time is ripe to move beyond asking questions about how these ancestors looked and behaved, to asking what was going on within their minds.”
    The book spans the period from the time of our last common ancestor with other apes (about six million years ago or so); then the australopithecines (between six million and two); then the various Homo species: habilis, erectus, neanderthalensis, sapiens. And, broadly speaking, it divides this period into the three main phases Mithen claims the human mind has passed through: first, a generalised intelligence; then something more modular with specialised capabilities (one of those Swiss Army knives is a good way of picturing this); and finally, these modules partly coalescing into something more flexible, more cognitively fluid. On the one hand, some of the reasoning here (but it is only some of it) does have a decided house-of-cards feel to me—minds aren’t themselves fossilised, obviously, so you’re inferring. But on the other hand, what did impress me was just how much you can infer: from the fossilised skeletal remains themselves and footprints in fossilised mud; from ceremonial burials, the detritus of worksites and campfires; from artefacts of all kinds (weapons, implements, ornaments and tools for making other tools); from cave paintings, carvings and dwellings—from all these physical remains you can infer behaviour, and from behaviour to a surprising amount about the minds behind it.
    Mithen’s book was an early attempt at this sort of reconstruction, so inevitably has by now become a bit out of date. A really interesting read though all the same.
… (mais)
justlurking | outras 7 resenhas | Mar 3, 2024 |
Steven Mithen has really gone out of his way to give a global view of a very early period in human history. He zooms in on more than 50 places, literally spread all over the world, places where remarkable archaeological finds have been done that give us more insight into the impressive evolution that mankind went through between 20,000 and 5,000 BC. Roughly speaking, this comes down to the transition from a life as a hunter-gatherer to a farmer and even city dweller.

Mithen has put an enormous amount of information into this book, and also provides the latest state of the art of archaeological research, at least at the time of publication in 2003. He also outlines cleverly what is still hotly debated, such as for example on whether agriculture has spread through migration, or through acculturation. Mithen has even managed to include the first results of the historical-genetic research of modern humans, but of course his book came too early for the groundbreaking new knowledge that paleogenetics (the genetic research on fossil remains) now yields. In that sense, this book is slightly outdated.

But… there are very big downsides to this book. Mithen has tried to reach a large audience with this book, and he does so by sending a time traveler to visit the more than 50 archaeological sites in their original time. This is so clumsily done that the author completely misses target. Unfortunately, because of these and several other missteps I really cannot recommend this book, despite Mithen's best efforts. See also the review in my History account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1153151722
… (mais)
bookomaniac | outras 12 resenhas | Jun 27, 2021 |
This book was the great breakthrough of the British archaeologist Steven Mithen (° 1960). He published it in 1996 and it immediately caused a stir in archaeological circles, but also far beyond. Indeed, Mithen was quite ambitious. He puts forward a bold hypothesis about how the human mind very gradually evolved, from about 2.5 million years ago to the great cognitive leap sometime between 100 and 50,000 years ago. Mithen makes extensive use of theories from the psychological sciences, but uses them to create his own view, which he tries to substantiate as much as possible with concrete archaeological findings. Out of necessity, his theory remains highly speculative, but it does offer an interesting, reasonably plausible explanation for the emergence of the "modern mind". And unlike many other developmental psychologists, anthropologists and philosophers, he is at least making an attempt to fit in the empirical material. But it remains a theory of a very speculative nature, and by now, probably outdated. More on that in my History account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3759206386… (mais)
bookomaniac | outras 7 resenhas | Jan 26, 2021 |



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