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Reflections on Hunter-Gatherer Social Learning and Innovation

  • Hideaki Terashima
Chapter
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)

Abstract

It is said that Homo sapiens were capable of developing survival strategies in response to the drastic climatic changes during the last glacial epoch, while the Neanderthals were not. Our mission in the RNMH project was to elucidate and compare the learning behaviors of modern humans and Neanderthals in order to test the “learning hypothesis” – that modern humans’ superior learning ability was the crucial factor in the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans. Investigation was carried out into the learning behavior of modern huntergatherer children to discover the social, ecological, behavioral, and psychological factors that may ensure the fidelity of cultural transmission and expand opportunities for innovative behavior. What has become clear in the RNMH project is that it might be difficult to judge whether the biological differences in learning ability between the two species were the primary cause of the replacement, and that the experience of rapid environmental changes and new social environments that the sapiens faced as they became dispersed throughout Europe spurred them to develop new technologies and social relationships to cope with that difficulty. Although the data on Neanderthals’ children were so little, some possible comparisons were made to get insights into the characteristics of learning behavior of sapiens and Neanderthals: (1) relationship between children’s physical development and learning strategies; (2) changes in prevalent mode of cultural transmission according to physical development of children; (3) status of children in their groups; (4) the way of teaching that are usually embedded in every instance of social interaction and communication; (5) sociality and social networks that work for material, informational, and social exchanges in the same human groups. Social learning is one of the core drivers of human cultural evolution, and an understanding of the processes of learning and the contexts in which it occurs among contemporary hunter-gatherers can help us make sophisticated inferences about our past as well as provide clues about where we might be headed in the future.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Humanities and SciencesKobe Gakuin UniversityKobeJapan

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