The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Language from endocasts..."If it looks like a duck..."


Anthropology, Columbia University

Thursday 2:45-3:00, Grand Ballroom II Add to calendar

Language origins remain speculative, and we will never truly know whether Neandertals, Homo erectus, or Australopithecus sediba, could talk. We need a better understanding of fMRI’s light up there when making stone tools.the neurological mechanisms involved in language, and the correlates of these processes with neuroanatomical structures visible on endocasts. Understanding great ape cognitive processes, particularly insight to their intrinsic symbolization processes is valuable, but not decisive. I said as much in 1969, in “Culture: A Human Domain”. I argued that the cognitive processes in stone tool making and language were very similar, if not identical. Molecular genetics has already suggested that Neandertals shared the FOXP2 alleles that are found in modern Homo sapiens. Even if extended backward in time, these would be correlative, not truly causal. To the degree that language, handedness, and cerebral hemispheric specialization appear correlated within our own species, one can study the paleoneurological picture and look for similar, if not identical morphological characters. Modern Homo sapiens endocasts show definite asymmetrical Broca’s areas, involved in the motor aspects of speech. The petalial pattern mostly associated with right-handedness, and thus some form of hemispheric specialization is left-occipital/parietal and right prefrontal lobe width. These same asymmetries are found in Homo erects/ergaster, Asian Homo erectus, Homo heidelburgensis, and Neandertals. Add to these stone tools, true cultural traditions, evidence of complex social cooperative behavior, one might ask:why not language?

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