Evolution of Complex Technology

The pace of technological change is a subject of Project 7, which uses theoretical and ethnographic studies to investigate how demographic factors, such as population size and connectedness, influence the adoption and transmission of complex technology. The outcome of these projects will contribute fresh insights into the evolutionary/cultural events and processes by which humans adopted progressively complex technology — a hallmark of modern human uniqueness. Most significant is the potential to narrow the range of hypotheses regarding the times and places of origins and the “environments of innovation” in technological evolution by linking paleoanthropological to ethnographical and theoretical (modeling) research.

Paleoscape Modeling

Project 6 uses experimental field observation and computer simulation to develop a paleoscape model that can predict productivity of fynbos and the conditions under which it would be exploited by hominins. The outcome of these projects will be more complete empirical documentation of exactly when and under what conditions steps were made at different stages of the human career toward novel, cognitively complex behaviors tied to technological advances in hominin resource use.

Coastal Foraging Models

Project 4 uses ethnographic and experimental field data wedded to computer simulation to test the hypothesis that the high productivity of coastal habitats was critical to early modern human adaptive success in the southern African later Pleistocene, which will be examined in the field with archaeological data in Project 5.

Bone Modification Paleoscape

Project 1 uses a novel approach to the empirical study of hominin butchery—a potential sign of enhanced social learning—and other agents of bone-surface modification in the first extensive sample of middle Pliocene (3.4 Ma) fossils amassed for this purpose, through new field work in the critical but poorly known time period between 2.9 and 2.6 Ma.

Paleoecology and paleoenvironments

Drilled long-cores from five ancient East African lake beds will show how environmental change impacted availability of critical resources to human ancestors over the lat four million years. Field and lab work seek to reconstruct the ecology of fossil animal communities to provide insights on the adaptations of early hominin populations across ancient landscapes.