Human Social Preferences

Project 9 fills gaps in our understanding of how child cognitive development interacts with culture (beliefs, norms, and values) and socialization to generate cross-cultural variation in cooperation in several small-scale human societies. The ontogeny of culturally-specific patterns of cooperation connects to Project 10’s focus.

Life History Evolution

Cumulative cultural evolution in humans implies a life-history schedule that facilitates the early weaning, slow growth, and delayed onset of reproduction underlying the transmission of cognitively complex skills and the development of extensive networks of cooperation. These life-history benchmarks, which are correlated with dental eruption patterns, can be studied in fossils through the age at emergence of the first molar. Project 8 addresses our poor knowledge of the timing of first molar emergence in our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, which is the most appropriate yardstick for assessing the trajectory of human life-history evolution.

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.