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Conceptual Blending, Metaphors, and the Construction of Meaning in Ice Age Europe: An Inquiry Into the Viability of Applying Theories of Cognitive Science to Human History in Deep Time


Although the peoples of Ice Age Europe undoubtedly considered the drawings, engravings and other imagery created during that long period of prehistory to be deeply meaningful, it is difficult for people today to discern with any degree of accuracy or reliability what those meanings may have been. Grand theories of meaning have been proposed, criticized, and in some cases rejected.

The development over the last few decades of modern cognitive science presents us with another angle of approach to this difficult problem. In this dissertation I review two related cognitive science theories, Conceptual Metaphor Theory and Conceptual Integration Theory (Blending Theory), and ask whether they provide a basis for informed interpretations of that imagery.

This inquiry presents serious epistemological obstacles. I argue that some of the underpinnings of metaphor theory, specifically the notions of primary metaphors and image schemas, utilized together with a theory of meaning based upon embodied cognition, have applicability universal enough to warrant their use in connection with this period of "deep time." They provide a means to understand some aspects of the construction of meaning in Ice Age Europe, and they offer a more sound scientific basis for interpretations of the physical experience of apprehending the imagery. I also contend that blending theory can provide a template for assessing some claims about the meanings of specific pieces of Ice Age imagery. Finally, drawing further on blending theory as well as modern work on the anthropology of culture contact situations, I apply cognitive science to claims regarding the presumed interactions between, and relative cognitive capabilities of, anatomically modern humans and Neandertals in Europe at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic.

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