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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Origins of Art: the Intersection of Cognitive and Cultural Evolution


In the field of cognitive archaeology, the origin of art has been recurrently explained as a result of the transition to a fully symbolic mind in our species, H. sapiens. Recent data is challenging that view as increasing evidence shows that the cognitive differences between ‘premodern’ and modern human populations are smaller than previously thought. Yet, possible cases of Neanderthal and other hominin art are few and far between, rendering artistic practices mainly a H. sapiens phenomenon. To explain this, it is necessary to redefine art and understand it not only as the product of cognitive operations, but as a behavior embedded in modern human social interactions.

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