Re: Corrected Erratum for technological bottlenecks and Movius line

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon 04 Aug 2003 - 04:05:27 GMT

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    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: Re: Corrected Erratum for technological bottlenecks and Movius
    >Date: Sun, 03 Aug 2003 23:26:11 -0400
    >At 08:51 PM 02/08/03 -0400, Scott wrote:
    >>>In reading Richard Klein and Blake Edgar's book _The Dawn of Human
    >>>Culture_ (2002. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York) I learned of something
    >>>called the "Movius line" which is a putative boundary in Asia that
    >>>demarks the apparent absence of Acheulean technology (ie hand axes) east
    >>>of the line toward Southeast Asia. This technology is indexed west of the
    >>>line, in Africa and Europe. Klein and Edgar have a map on page 111 that
    >>>has an arrow pointing to this "Movius line". From the context it looks
    >>>like this boundary (named after Hallam Movius) applies to *Homo erectus*
    >>>and its migration into Asia.
    >>>There are two possible explanations offered for this apparent absence of
    >>>hand axes:
    >>>1. the people migrating into Asia lacked the hand axes because they had
    >>>migrated "before hand axes were invented" (Klein and Edgar, page 130)
    >Given the age of hand axes, that seems *really* unlikely. They are some of
    >the very oldest tools humans made. They are, according to Calvin really
    >"killer Frisbees" that were used for water hole hunting.
    >>>2. There was a "technological bottleneck" where these people migrated
    >>>after the invention of hand axes, but lost lost this innovation from
    >>>their cultural memory due to some cicumstance such as not having proper
    >>>material resources to craft hand axes.
    >Given the widespread availability of rock, that too seems rather unlikely.
    >>>The "technological bottleneck" hypothesis is attributed by Klein and
    >>>Edgar to Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick.
    >>>The technological bottleneck explanation for the "Movius line" reminded
    >>>me of this exchange between Keith and I and I'm glad I still have Keith's
    >>>post saved. Maybe technological bottleneck events have impacted human
    >>>cultural evolution from time to time. Keith's example of the Tasmanians
    >>>losing memory of certain technologies sounds like a technological
    >>>bottleneck associated with cultural drift. The Explanation for the Movius
    >>>line could likewise be an example, but that would depend not only on
    >>>cultural drift being a viable hypoteses for the loss of Acheulean
    >>>traditions of hand axe manufacture (especially if it can compete with the
    >>>hyppothess that the migration into Asia occurred *after* the emergence of
    >>>this technology), but also would depend on the "Movius line being real nd
    >>>not apparent.
    >>>The info in these URL's could take some wind out of the sails of Movius
    >>>and a technological bottleneck:
    >>Seems I lost a dot on this one:
    >Interesting article. It also points up what might be the real reason
    >"killer frisbees" were not found east of a certain line: They are open
    >country weapons that just don't work well in a forest environment. So
    >where it was not dry enough to get savanna, you just don't find them. The
    >ones they did find came from a time where the forest had been burned off
    >and there was at least a temporary savanna.
    I've heard of a bamboo argument too.

    Maybe the Movius line isn't a case for cultural drift.

    Robert Wright, in his neo-Teilhardian book _Nonzero, gets into some arguments for the relationship between population density and technological innovation. At the end of chapter 4 he addresses the situation between Tasmania and Australia. His take home message is that "larger and denser populations equal faster technological advance" (page 52)

    This isn't quite the same as smaller populations resulting in a founder effect of cultural drift (or technological bottleneck) where formerly known technologies are forgotten. Instead Wright's argument is more along the lines of the advent of innovation facilitated by population size or density being increased. He adds the case of Native Americans crossing the Bering bridge. Maybe the spread of Asians through North America involved some founder effects and cultural drift. The initial populations may not have been very large and its possible that formerly practiced cultural traditions could have slipped from cultural memory for the various Native American groups. The recession of the land bridge would have put an end to cultural diffusion from Asia, culturally isolating the Native Americans (from Inuit to Aztec).

    When population density increased in the regions they colonized, innovations may have flourished that were apt for their new surroundings.

    Then again maybe Joseph Smith was right about the Nephites and all that ;-)

    (just kidding)
    >>That should work better. That's it! I'm buying new batteries for my
    >>>Aside from this interesting tangent, the meat of Klein and Edgar's book
    >>>rests on a contentious hypothesis for the dawn of human culture, that
    >>>it's based on a neural event facilitated by some mutation 5000 years ago.
    >>That should be *50,000 years ago*! Ooops :-(
    >>They weren't that crazy. 50,000 sounds much better than 5,000. Typos are
    >>getting the best of me. My apologies. The rest of my typos aren't that
    >>critical, but I'll try to edit better next time (drats, drats, drats!)!
    >>>They cite Gould and Eldredge earlier in the book yet this putative
    >>>mutational event sounds more saltational than punctuational to me. They
    >>>assume this shift allowed for language and mental modeling of the
    >>>environment. They use a loss of function mutation seen in cases adversely
    >>>impacting human speech as evidence for an assumed gain of function
    >>>quasi-saltational event. I wouldn't look at a condition that impairs
    >>>language processing due to a single gene mutation as providing evidence
    >>>for a single mutational event that gave humans language *de novo*.
    >>>Language processing probably involves many genes (perhaps a gene complex)
    >>>and the evolution of language could have involved the cumulative
    >>>co-option of several genetic factors that were involved in other
    >>>processes. Sounds marginally better than some magical mutation mumbo
    >>>jumbo and I'm neither an anthropologist, a linguist, nor a geneticist.
    >>>Klein and Edgar's book has many good points and the hand waving about a
    >>>mutational revolution underlying the dawn of human culture should not
    >>>detract too much.
    >>>[Klein and Edgar, page 270] (bq)"In our view, the simplest and most
    >>>economic explanation for the "dawn" is that it stemmed from a fortuitous
    >>>mutation that promoted the fully modern human brain."(eq)
    >>>In their enthusiasm, they may have take things a litle too far.
    >It is a question we can eventually answer.
    I wouldn't get too dogmatic about that. I really have red flags jump up when I hear loss of function single gene mutations trumpeted as evidence for a ready to go off the showroom floor gain of function mutation. I don't think there was some magic mutational event that resulted in the fully modern human brain 50,000 years ago. As far as language is concerned there was probably more than a single gene involved and the advent was more gradual than I get from Klein and Edgar's book. To contradict this gradualism too strongly would go not only against Darwin but beyond a reasonably punctuational argument. Language could have evolved quite quickly geologically speaking, but genetically, a single genetic mutation ain't quite gonna do it. We're talking hopeful monster material here.
    > We will get DNA from many of our remote ancestors with nanotech tools to
    >really dig it out.
    If the DNA no longer exists then what can be done?
    >With proper simulation programs we can see what these folks were like in
    >language skills or just grow enough of them to find out.
    With simulation there's the GIGO problem and the latter assumption reminds me of that Pauly Shore flick "Encino Man".

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