a1 Department of Sociology University of East London Longbridge Road Dagenham Essex RM8 2AS
a2 Department of Anthropology University College London Gower Street London WC1E 6BT
a3 Department of Anthropology University College London Gower Street London WC1E 6BT
By 50,000 years ago, the effects of a ‘symbolic explosion’ — an efflorescence of human art, song, dance and ritual — were rippling across the globe. Applied to archaeological evidence, standard neo-Darwinian theory offers new understandings of this improbable event. The present article defines ‘symbolism’, models quasi-ritual behaviour in late archaic Homo sapiens, extends the argument to the emergence of anatomically modern humans and concludes with preliminary tests against archaeological, ethnographic and rock art data.