Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Pleistocene Exchange Networks as Evidence for the Evolution of Language

Ben  Marwick  a1
a1 Centre for Archaeology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley 6009, Western Australia;

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Distances of raw material transportation reflect how hominid groups gather and exchange information. Early hominids moved raw materials short distances, suggesting a home range size, social complexity and communication system similar to primates in equivalent environments. After about 1.0 million years ago there was a large increase in raw material transfer distances, possibly a result of the emergence of the ability to pool information by using a protolanguage. Another increase in raw material transfer occurred during the late Middle Stone Age in Africa (after about 130,000 years ago), suggesting the operation of exchange networks. Exchange networks require a communication system with syntax, the use of symbols in social contexts and the ability to express displacement, which are the features of human language. Taking the Neanderthals as a case study, biological evidence and the results of computer simulations of the evolution of language, I argue for a gradual rather than catastrophic emergence of language coinciding with the first evidence of exchange networks.

(Received March 20 2002)
(Revised July 26 2002)

Key Words: exchange networks; Neanderthals; early hominids; evolution of language.