Re: (Sociology's problems)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 13 Feb 2004 - 06:02:44 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility"

    At 08:29 PM 12/02/04 +0200, you wrote:
    >Keith, I'd appreciate some references to look further into these issues
    >(it's probably just my own lack of exposure to evidence, but realization of
    >a sharp stone's usefulness catalyzing the evolution of memetics sounds too
    >much like a Just So Story).

    It *is* a Just So Story, that I freely admit.

    But other than the exact events that started hominids using broken rock to get more of that delicious meat, there is an awful lot of evidence from about 2.6 million years ago that a bunch of hominids started making a heck of a lot of stone tools. I found the article I was looking for:

    The World抯 Oldest Stone Artefacts from Gona, Ethiopia: Their Implications for Understanding Stone Technology and Patterns of Human Evolution Between 2򉷣5 Million Years Ago


    "The systematic archaeological and geological survey and excavations at Gona between 19921994 led to the discovery of well-flaked stone artefacts which are currently the oldest known from anywhere in the world. More than 3000 surface and excavated artefacts were recovered at 15 localities documented east and west of the Kada Gona river. Based on radioisotopic dating (40Ar/39Ar) and magnetostratigraphy, the artefacts are dated between 2򉷤5 million years ago
    (Ma). EG10 and EG12 from East Gona are the most informative with the highest density, providing the best opportunity for characterizing the oldest assemblages and for understanding the stone working capability of the earliest tool makers. Slightly younger artefact occurrences dated to 2򉐌3 Ma are known from Hadar and Omo in Ethiopia, and from Lokalalei in Kenya. Cut-marked bones dated to 25 Ma from Bouri in Ethiopia are now providing important clues on the function of these artefacts. In addition, Australopithecus garhi known from contemporary deposits at Bouri may be the best candidate responsible for the oldest artefacts. Surprisingly, the makers of the Gona artefacts had a sophisticated understanding of stone fracture mechanics and control similar to what is observed for Oldowan assemblages dated between 2򈁛5 Ma. This observation was corroborated by the recent archaeological discoveries made at Lokalalei. Because of the similarities seen in the techniques of artefact manufacture during the Late Pliocene朎arly Pleistocene, it is argued here that the stone assemblages dated between 2򉷣5 Ma group into the Oldowan Industry. The similarity and simplicity of the artefacts from this time interval suggests a technological stasis in the Oldowan."

    Now, making stone tools out of rocks is an element of culture. Chimpanzees have considerable culture without generating durable evidence, so it is unlikely that the cultural information used to make stone tools was the first meme, but it is the first for which the evidence survives (tens of thousands found, probably hundreds of millions of pieces of broken rocks).

    The cultural habit of cracking rocks to get sharp edges was invented in at least one place and from the evidence became a widespread cultural practice of these populations. By any reasonable definition, the information on how to chip rocks is a meme, a very useful one for creatures that like to eat meat but are not well equipped for ripping meat off bones with their teeth. Spreading out to a large population makes rock cracking a successful meme.

    So for a million years these hominids (who almost certainly included our ancestors) ate better because they could use sharp rocks to get meat off bones and hammer stones to get at marrow. What is impressive in a negative way is that having figured out how to make shape edged stone tools, there were few improvements as they passed this information down through about 40,000 generations during the next million years. It took biological evolution that long and probably some major crises to find a better model hominid who improved on the original stone tools--taking them into the era of the killer Frisbee (hand ax).

    Still, after a million years the rock wielding hominids may have (and likely did) become dependant on rock chipping and the ability to pass the memes for rock chipping on to their descendants. I.e., by the end of that time, a group that quit using sharp rocks probably would have died out in competition with groups that used them and ate better.

    > > Throwing stones, "manuports" are found in places where hominid transport
    > > from distant rock outcrops is the most likely reason they are found (Mary
    > > Leakey).

    '"mary leakey" manuports' in Google will take you to a wealth of material. You can also make the case from the evidence that new tools were introduced at a rough rate of one per 100k years. Talk about *slow.*

    >As to why the hominids ventured out from the trees, it was
    > > probably for meat. (Chimps *really* crave meat (Jane Goodall) and there
    > > no reason our remote ancestors didn't also.) They were probably killing
    > > and eating young antelopes, same as baboons do today.

    However, once they started using sharp edges:

    "In his 1996 study of the bone accumulations at FxJj50 which he summarises in this paper, RD concludes (pages 35 and 45, "Given the fact that midshafts (in general) and upper limb bones are particularly devoid of even scraps of flesh at carnivore kills, the cut-mark pattern from the FxJj50 is indicative of flesh exploitation, and therefore, early access to carcasses by hominids... These results are in accordance with other studies. The analysis made by Monahan (1996) on Olduvai Bed II faunas also shows that upper limb bones are highly ranked among the cut-marked bones in some of the sites, further suggesting that hominids were primary agents in carcass exploitation... "Data from the archaeofaunas at Olduvai and Koobi Fora suggest that hominids had primary access to fleshed carcasses. The strategies they used to obtain these carcasses are still unknown and difficult to test. The (stilluntested) scavenging hypothesis has been assumed by several researchers as the most likely explanation for carcass acquisition by early hominids (Lewin, 1984), and even landscape modeling has been made on this basis (Blumenschine and Peters, 1998; Peters and Blumenschine, 1995). In the current stage of research, the hunting hypothesis cannot be ruled out, and it seems that its heuristic power is greater than that of the passive scavenging scenarios outlined so far. Perhaps we are not far from the threshold of another scientific revolution toward interpretations in which hominids are considered to have been more actively involved in obtaining carcasses.""

    If I had one opportunity to go into the past, my choice would be at this root time where our remote ancestors started using stone tools. They had already been walking upright for several million years. It would be really interesting to see the origin of the other major human differences with chimpanzees such as pair bonding, provisioning, and moving food back to a home base.

    Incidentally, if you are not familiar with really old stone tools there is an article here:

    With good pictures of some of the oldest tool sets.

    > > Given a million years, one of those thrown rocks would have hit something
    > > hard and broken. Chimps can figure out the use of shape edges to cut down
    > > a reward. The can learn to smash rocks on hard surfaces to make the sharp
    > > edges. Some researchers found this out when they tried to teach a chimp
    > > chip rocks and the chimp persisted in making sharp fragments by smashing
    > > his stones on the concrete floor (rather than on another rock).

    I have objections to this site since bonobos are *not* chimps, but it does tell the story.

    More here:

    "Their subject, Kanzi, a star in communication experiments, showed an immediate interest in having sharp flakes available to cut cords that held a fruit-containing box closed. He got the idea of striking flakes from a core, but even after many months of training he was still nowhere near the skill level of the Oldowan toolmakers. The latter clearly understood the major properties of the stones they worked and selected the most effective points at which to strike an inevitably irregular core. NOt so Kanzi, who never mastered the idea of striking stone at the optimum angle.

    And here

    Increases in tool efficiency: Some archaeologists argue that the changes in stone-tool technology over time have a trajectory towards an exponential increase in the length of cutting edge that knappers could produce from a given amount of tool stone.

         * Olduwan knappers (H. habilis) got about 7.5 cm of cutting edge from about half a kilo of flint ca. 2 million years ago
         * Acheulean handaxe (H. erectus) got about 30 cm of cutting edge from half a kilo
         * Mousterian (H. neanderthalensis) got about 75 cm of cutting edge from half a kilo
         * Upper Palaeolithic blades: almost 10 m of cutting edge from half a kilo

    Keith Henson

    > > Some chance observation by a bright hominid that her recovered but now
    > > broken in half "lion stone" was useful in hacking off a chunk of a large
    > > carcass the group chanced upon during the walk back to the trees where
    > > were sleeping seems to have been enough to start the evolution of our
    > > entire meme based material culture. (This is a petrocentric view of
    > > course. The bag might have been an important meme too but the supporting
    > > evidence didn't survive.)
    > >
    > > >Memetics is supposedly derived from an evolutionary outlook, yet one of
    > > >the most fundamental evolutionary issues, the evolution of memes, has not
    > > >been attended to.
    > >
    > > That's a good point. If the above isn't enough evidence for the start of
    > > meme evolution and you want me to fill in web sites and book sources
    > > supporting this view, let me know.
    > >
    > > Keith
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

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