Section 1


Outline of Human Phylogeny

Evolutionary Trees
and DNA

Brain Evolution

Hand and Bipedality

Section 2
Social and socio-
cultural systems

Primate societies

Social relations and the evolution of culture

Social relations, communication and cognition

Human socio-cultural patterns

Tools and symbolic behaviour

Palaeolithic Art

Contemporary hunter-gatherer art

Section 3
Ontogeny and symbolism

Editorial Introduction: Ontogeny & Phylogeny

The role of ontogenesis

Brain, cognition, and language

Early interaction and cognitive skills

Language and thought

Theories of symbolization
and development

Children's drawings and the evolution of art

Section 4
Language systems

Spoken language and
sign language

The gestural primacy hypothesis

Comparative cognition

Animal language and cognition

Language acquisition


The prehistory of grammar

Writing systems


Links Policy

Relevant Links

The evolution of tools and symbolic behaviour

Thomas Wynn

Tools constitute the most abundant evidence of hominid behaviour over the last two million years. While they have undeniably played an important, if not central, role in hominid ecology, they have also played a role in semiotic behaviour. This role probably had its origins in the agonistic use of tools we still see today in non-human primates. When we first encounter extensive use of stone tools, about two million years ago, the ecological context of use is not dramatically different from that of modern apes, and we may assume that the semiotic role of tools was also comparable. By one million years ago tools present patterns well outside the range of anything we know for apes, tempting some scholars to argue for the presence of language. However, given the cognitive and developmental contrasts between tool behaviour and language, such conclusions are unwarranted. At 300 000 BP the ecological context of tool behaviour was much like that of modern hunting and gathering, but the tools present an enigmatic conservatism in style that suggests a semiotic role very different from that of tools in modern culture. And yet the hominids appear to have had an almost modern intelligence. It is not until relatively late in human evolution, certainly by 15 000, that tools present the volatile time and space patterns typical of the indexical role of modern tools.

For further details, see SARC-Stone Age Reference Collection by Roger Grace at the Department of Art History and Numismatics, Institute of Archaeology, University of Oslo