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Material Culture


Material Culture Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don't. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Material Culture

Material Culture
Culture is roughly anything we do and the
monkeys don't." Lord Raglan
What is culture?
  • Depends on definition
  • deeply shrouded in language, politics morality
    unique to humans
  • B) Lumsden Wilson - gt10,000 species incl.
    bacteria extra-genetic inheritance

What is culture?
  • Narrow definition
  • E.g. cultures are systems of linguistically
    encoded conceptual phenomena that are learned
    through teaching and imitation, socially
    transmitted within populations and characteristic
    of groups of people
  • barrier to understanding humans place in nature
  • barrier to understanding evolutionary roots of
  • barrier to integration of bio/social sciences
  • Broad definition
  • Benefits
  • comparative framework to study evolutionary
    history of culture
  • X fertilisation of bio/soc science information
  • classification between different classes of

What is culture?
  • How broad?
  • Consensus of opinion on essential criteria
  • built on socially learned and socially
    transmitted information
  • Does not apply to inherited genetic information
    or knowledge/skills individuals acquire on their
  • Socially transmitted info can underpin group
    behaviour patterns - may vary from one pop. to
  • explains continuity within diversity between
  • e.g. Cultures are those group-typical behaviour
    patterns shared by members of a community that
    rely on socially learned and transmitted
    information (Laland Hoppitt 2003)

Which animals have culture?
  • Observational evidence of group-typical behaviour
    patterns/social learning?
  • hundreds of vertebrates
  • Experimental evidence?
  • Laland Hoppitt (2003) humans, birds, whales,
  • ? To show behaviour patterns underpinned by
    social learning must disprove alternative
    explanations for behaviour (genetics, ecological

(No Transcript)
French grunts (Haemulon flavolineatum)
  • Helfman Shultz (1984)
  • Fish placed into established pops. adopted the
    same schooling sites/migrations routes as
  • Control fish introduced into regions from which
    residents had been removed did not adopt
    behaviour of former residents

Culture in Cetaceans
  • Rendel and Whitehead (2001)
  • Killer whales (Orcinus orca)
  • Sympatric pods exhibit pod specific behaviours
    foraging specialisations, migration patterns,
    vocal dialects
  • Humpback whale (Megaptera novaengliae)
  • breeding season all pop. males sing nearly one
  • song changes over time/within breeding season
  • Rapidity of change not genetic

Culture in apes
  • McGrew (Chimpanzee Material Culture, 1992)
  • 8 criteria for identifying cultural acts among
    non-linguistic creatures
  • innovation dissemination
  • standardisation durability
  • diffusion tradition
  • non-subsistence naturalness
  • No single chimp population satisfies all 8
    conditions, but all conditions are met by
    behaviour of some chimps in some cases
  • E.g. grooming patterns
  • culture if shown by humans
  • denied the label because apes

Culture in chimpanzees
  • Wild qualitative data, human-2-ape experimental
    data no true evidence of cultural transmission.
  • Whiten et al
  • naturalistic foraging task - Pan-pipes, 2
    possible techniques
  • focussed on ape-to-ape transmission ? taught a
    high ranking female, who taught other chimps.
  • studied three groups a control group exposed to
    a new task with no expert present, and two
    experimental groups, with adult female trained to
    solve task in a different way.
  • ? measure the extent to which two different
    techniques are copied sufficiently well to become
    traditions, with the control condition
    identifying baseline levels of individual

Whiten et al, 2005 Nature, 437
Lift and poke techniques for pan pipes
Culture in chimpanzees
All but two of 32 chimpanzees mastered the new
technique under the influence of their local
expert, whereas none did so in a third population
lacking an expert.
Poke Test 1
Poke Re Test
Lift Test 1
Lift Re Test
Black Poke, White bars - Lift
type specimen
  • Neanderthals 300kya -30kya
  • Glaciations 186-128kya, 71-13kya
  • Hominids biologically adapted to tropical climate
  • efficient system of perspiration to prevent
    overheating in the tropics
  • lacked a counterbalancing system effective
    against overcooling
  • But didnt have to wait for this to occur
    biologically culture controlled fires, hide
    clothing ?, shelter in caves/ built own shelters

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World climate / vegetation at peak of last
glaciation (70kya)
Neanderthal Distribution
Mousterian industry
  • New stone knapping techniques / variety of new
  • Flake tools
  • trimmed a nodule of stone around the edges to
    make a disk shaped core
  • Aimed hammer blows towards the centre of the
    disk-repeatedly rapped at its edges knocking off
    flake after flake until the core was almost
    entirely used up
  • Finally the unfinished flakes were trimmed so
    that they had edges for work on wood, carcasses
    or hides

Mousterian industry
  • gt60 types of cutting, scraping, piercing and
    gouging tools
  • No one band of Neanderthals used all, but
    nevertheless the kit contained a number of
    specialist tools. . incl. blunt edges on side
    that user held it
  • The abundance and variety of
  • scrapers supports view that these
  • people must have spent an
  • enormous amount of time preparing
  • animal hides for loose fitting clothes,
  • poss. shelters

Neanderthal language
  • complete hyoid bone, identical to modern humans
  • Did they share our capacity for language?

Hunting magic
  • Grotto della Basua (caves of witches)
  • W Genoa (Italy) ca. 450m from entrance, hunters
    threw pellets of clay at a stalagmite (vague
    animal shape)
  • inconvenient location of the stalagmite not a
    game/ target practise
  • 1970 Lebanon - deer ceremony at a cave (Ralph
  • ca.50kya a fallow deer was dismembered and the
    meat was placed on a bed of stones and sprinkled
    with red ochre
  • natural pigment intended as a symbol of blood ?
  • Rite to control life and death in the deer

Hunting magic
  • Cave at Drachenloch (swiss Alps) 1917-1923,
    2,400m up in swiss alps lair of dragons
  • front of cave occasional dwelling place
  • back 1m3 stone chest, covered by a massive slab
    of stone
  • inside 7 bear skulls, muzzles facing cave
  • deeper in cave 6 bear skulls, set in niches
    along walls
  • Regourdou (S France) rectangular
  • pit covered by a 1 ton flat stone, held
  • bones of gt20 bears
  • Overall evidence tantalizing, but
  • not conclusive

Beginnings of art and music?
  • Red/ yellow ochre, black manganese,
  • powder form pencil shaped pieces - rubbed onto
    human skins/animal hides
  • No representational engravings/statuary, only 1
    or 2 perforated teeth
  • Cave (Tata, Hungary) oval shaped piece
  • of ivory - polished and coated with ochre
  • Cave (Pech de l aze, S. France) hole bored
  • into animal bone- amulet?
  • Other caves in france (ca. 34kya) pierced
  • animal teeth, 2 fossils of marine animals
  • Overall Neanderthal material art scanty

Beginnings of art and music?
  • 1995 cave (NW Slovenia) fragmentary bear bone
    4 perforated round holes aligned on one side
  • 82-43kya
  • Comparison with Upper Palaeolithic objects flute?
  • Carnivore tooth punctures?
  • Similarly aged H. heidelbergensis bone
    whistle/flute fragment from Libya

Death and Burial
  • Some concept in animal populations
  • Neanderthals
  • Spy (Belgium)1886
  • buried, fire lit over bodies counteract chill
    of death?
  • La Chapelle-aux-Saints (France) 1908
  • Ancient hunter laid out carefully in a shallow
  • Bison leg placed on chest, trench filled with
    broken animal bones and flint tools
  • provisions for the world beyond the grave?
  • Afterlife!

Death and Burial
  • Rock shelter - La Ferrassie, France (1909)
  • 50kya
  • 1 man, 1 woman, 3 kids 5-6yrs, 1 infant.
  • Skeleton skull of a child interred 1m apart
  • Skull covered by a triangular limestone slab
    whose underside shaped impressions

Why buried separately? Jean Bouyssonie child
beheaded by a wild animal. Buried with head
further up slope so that in afterlife it would
slip down the slope and rejoin the trunk!
Death and Burial Middle eastern Asian
  • Shanidar cave (Iraq)
  • 9 burials
  • back of the cave 50kya layer grave of a hunter
    with a badly crushed skull
  • Clusters of pollen in grave in abundance
    (hyacinth, groundsel, hollyhock)
  • plants used in poultices and herbal remedies by
    modern Iraqi people
  • medicinal properties to heal hunter in afterlife?
    or in same way that people put flowers on graves
  • All buried E-W sun rising and setting?

Were the Neanderthals the 1st to practise ritual
disposal of dead?
  • Some modern tribal societies dispose of the dead
    through exposure, no evidence in archaeological
  • ?
  • how frequently burials were performed by archaic
  • how elaborate they were?
  • what do they tell us about their belief systems?
  • Burials show evidence of Neanderthals believing
    in a spirit or soul that cont. to exist after
  • beginnings of religion?
  • Or
  • purely corpse disposal, tell little about
  • great opportunity to over modernise their
    cultural capacity

The old and the handicapped
  • Shanidar
  • Ca. 40yr old man, killed by a rock fall?
  • Before death right arm and shoulder poorly
  • accident in childhood?
  • birth defect?
  • Front teeth unusually worn
  • chewing hides?
  • used his teeth instead of his arm for gripping

Old Man of La-Chapelle
  • ca. 50kya
  • severe arthritis in his neck, deformed left hip,
    crushed toe, broken rib, damaged patella, only 2
    teeth remained
  • Passed economic usefulness
  • cared for by other members of his clan

Evidence of Violence
  • Increased evidence of violence
  • Why?
  • Pop. increase inadequate technology to obtain
    enough resources?
  • Lots of skulls with injuries, pelvic wounds from
    spears, some wounds to arms which have healed
  • All wounds found men, left hand side on body
  • - left hand most easily injured in combat between
    2 right handers

  • Krapina (Slovenia) 20 men, women and children,
  • Skulls in fragments/ long bones split
  • cannibalistic feast on brain and marrow?
  • cut marks part of a burial practise, and
    fragmentation result of roof falls, crushing
    during fossilisation, use of dynamite in opening
  • Hortus (France) 1965
  • Broken/scattered Nean remains in assoc. with
    other animal bones and food refuse
  • did inhabitants make no distinction between
    hominin meat and bison/reindeer?
  • But, no stone cut marks found on the remains, nor
    can deliberate splitting of long bones be proved.
    so no real evidence of cannibalism at this site

  • Monto Circeo (Italy). 52kya. 1939
  • Skull jaw of man
  • Foramen magnum greatly enlarged
  • Skull placed in a ring of stones
  • cannibalism, brain extracted through FM and
    ritually eaten?
  • reanalysis using modern techniques a hyena den,
    hyena gnaw marks on skull, incl. the enlarged
    basal opening. No stone cut marks. Ring of stone
  • Overall evidence of intraspecific violence, but
    no clear evidence of dietary/ritual cannibalism

  • Quantification of culture depends on definition
  • Present in many animal societies
  • Hn clearly advanced over He in lithic
    technology and cultural complexity
  • Cultural accomplishments combined with key
    biological adaptations allowed them to exploit
    periglacial regions

Additional further reading
  • Evolutionary Anthropology 2003 Vol. 12
  • in particular
  • Laland, KN and Hoppitt, W (2003) Evolutionary
    Anthropology 12150-159