“The Next Eco-Warriors” book; American Scientist magazine

March 21, 2011
Old perhaps, but not primitive
American Scientist, March/April issue

Science is catching up to Geico. In 2006, the insurance company launched its caveman commercials, depicting early humans as fairly sophisticated, unlike the traditional view of prehistoric people as dimwitted and inarticulate.

According to the article “Refuting a Myth About Human Origins” by archaeologist John J. Shea, fossil evidence now shows that Homo sapiens emerged all at once, “not as modern-looking people first and as a modern-behaving people later.” The more sophisticated behaviors include creating complex projectile weapons, using symbols and burying the dead with items in the grave. Shea started researching “behavioral variability” in 2002 after excavating a 195,000-year-old site in Ethiopia. “Nothing about the stone tools . . . struck me as archaic or primitive,” he writes.

Rachel Saslow

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