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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Human Origins and the Genesis of Symbolic Thought (PGSP11307)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Course typeStandard AvailabilityAvailable to all students
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) Credits20
Home subject areaPostgrad (School of Social and Political Studies) Other subject areaNone
Course website None Taught in Gaelic?No
Course descriptionThe course covers human origins from a social anthropological point of view. Topics include the history of the idea of 'human origins' in social anthropology and in other disciplines; comparisons between humans and chimpanzees; fossil finds from Sahelanthropus (ca. 7mya) to Homo (from 2.4mya); group size and settlement from early prehistory to the Neolithic (from 14,000 BP); hominin pedagogy, sharing and exchange; origins of language and symbolism; the evolution of kinship structures; and the relevance of social anthropology to ideas from sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and other disciplines. A key focus of the course will be the period from the African Middle Stone Age evidence of symbolic culture (200,000 77,000 BP) to the Out of Africa H. sapiens migrations of the ancestors of non-African populations (125,000 60,000 BP) and early rock art (from 32,000 BP), all interpreted through methods and theories from within social anthropology. The thematic heart of the course is the explosion of art, religion and language at the 'Symbolic Revolution', and the social consequences of these. That is normally dated at between 130,000 and 60,000 BP). The course will involve debate on such issues, and will concentrate on the contribution social anthropology can make, and is now making. Students will be encouraged to employ their general social anthropological (theoretical and ethnographic) knowledge to answer questions all too often left to those in other disciplines. Since the 1990s, these themes have re-emerged within British social anthropology after having lain dormant for many decades.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Additional Costs None
Information for Visiting Students
Displayed in Visiting Students Prospectus?No
Course Delivery Information
Delivery period: 2013/14 Semester 2, Available to all students (SV1) Learn enabled:  Yes Quota:  None
Web Timetable Web Timetable
Course Start Date 13/01/2014
Breakdown of Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 5, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 171 )
Additional Notes
Breakdown of Assessment Methods (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
No Exam Information
Summary of Intended Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course all students will have gained knowledge and skills in a number of areas. Students at postgraduate level, in particular, will be expected not only to read appropriately from the reading list, but to go beyond it, to prepare thoroughly for debates and presentations, and to maintain a very high level of class discussion, both in the main classes (which include both postgraduate and undergraduate students) and in the five dedicated postgraduate classes.
More specifically, the learning outcomes of the postgraduate version (SCQF Level 11) include the following:

- Students will demonstrate a critical understanding of the debates and issues in social anthropological aspects of human origins, and especially of the origins of symbolic culture.
- They will learn to engage in sophisticated discussions of issues of great importance to understanding the social nature of humanity, and they will do so from a knowledge of relevant data from several other social science and science disciplines.
- Students will acquire an advanced knowledge of species names and reputed cognitive abilities of species, a similar knowledge of important archaeological sites, and of relevant dates.
- Students will be able to debate with confidence issues such the social anthropological significance of the relation between neocortex size and group size; how and why language emerged; the place of myth and totemism in cognitive, linguistic and social evolution; whether MSA kinship systems possessed socio-centric categories or not, embedded symbolic structures or not, and similar issues.
- Students will be expected to know how to employ ethnographic evidence, for example, from modern hunter-gatherer societies to examine such issues, as well as being able to assess the limitations of such endeavours.
- Through class work, students will acquire or improve their presentation skills, including skills involving group presentations, and how to utilize visual aids such as PowerPoint, to advance sophisticated arguments as well as to present material in a way conducive to their audience.
Assessment Information
For postgraduates, one essay of up to 4000 words (100 percent).
Special Arrangements
Additional Information
Academic description Not entered
Syllabus 1. Introduction and overview
This class will be broad and general. Through informal discussion we will get to know each other and our respective interests related to human origins. The meeting will also explore the course outline and include a brief overview of the course content.

2. A history of the study of human origins
Here we try to understand the outline Western thinking on the study of human origins from the 17th to the 21st centuries, both in their own terms and from what we know now. Of special concern is the development of anthropological ideas and of the discipline of anthropology, especially in Europe and North America. The class will also include a review of essential material from the previous week.

3. Primates and humans
This class includes an overview of relevant primate studies, and encourages comparisons between non-human (especially bonobo and common chimpanzee) and human behaviour. We look at differences between chimpanzee 'cultures' and ask why they are present. We also explore recent ideas on the origin of language in primate communication.

4. Fossils and what they tell us
The aim of this meeting is to ensure that every member of the class is familiar not only with the historical trajectory of fossil discovery, but also with the fossil record known today and with relevant archaeological periods. It takes the australopithecines as a baseline for the evolution of Homo, and with Homo the development of cognition and culture.

5. The evolution of Homo
This is an in-depth exploration of the evidence of human evolution from human biology, archaeology, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, followed by an attempt to answer the question: what can social anthropology add? Background topics include things like 'Dunbar's number', and the 'hand to mouth' theory of the evolution of language.

Reading period: no class

6. The 'Symbolic Revolution'
Views differ on whether this is a 'revolution' or not, and (if so) of course, on when it was. We review the evidence for rapid and for slow evolution of language and symbolism, and look at ideas from within social anthropology, for example by Chris Knight and his followers, and evidence from other fields too, notably archaeology and linguistics.

7. Early symbolic thought
We continue with some of the ideas brought out in the previous week. We look at the implications of Blombos Cave and other important sites, at the degree to which ethnographic comparison is relevant, and at the implications of differentiating hunter-gatherer universals from human universals. We also examine ideas on the origins of religion and art.

8. Early kinship
This topic is straightforward. Was early Homo sapiens sapiens kinship ordered and embedded in symbolic structures (as in modern Aboriginal Australia), or was it flexible and a realm separate from the symbolic (as among modern African hunter-gatherers)? Did the 'Neolithic Revolution' result in the destruction of the fundamental principles of human society? In other words, are humans in the 'modern' (African post-Middle and Later Stone Age) fundamentally non-human?

9. Music, art, myth, metaphor, grammar
Why are languages so ridiculously complicated? Does language originate in biology, or in music or art? What is the role of mythology in the evolution of grammatical complexity? Why are the same myths found the world over? What does social anthropology tell us about these things? Here we examine important, if neglected, theoretical ideas in social anthropology's past which shed direct light on such issues.

10. Out of Africa
All humanity is one, and all humanity is African. Here we look at the migrations from Africa, and at the peopling of the continents. We examine cultural similarities and differences especially among hunter-gatherers around the world. We also explore minority views such as multi-regional evolution, the notion of recent genetic drift, and their implications for the monogenic consensus.
Transferable skills Not entered
Reading list Short list of indicative readings:
Allen, Nicholas J., Hilary Callan, Robin Dunbar and Wendy James (eds.). 2008. Early human kinship: from sex to social reproduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Barnard, Alan. 2011. Social anthropology and human origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Coolidge, Frederick L. and Thomas Wynn. 2009. The rise of Homo sapiens: the evolution of modern thinking. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Dunbar, Robin, Chris Knight and Camilla Power (eds.). 1999. The evolution of culture: an interdisciplinary view. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Oppenheimer, Stephen. 2003. Out of Eden: the peopling of the world. Constable & Robinson
Renfrew, Colin and Ian Morley (eds.). 2009. Becoming human: innovation in prehistoric material and spiritual culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Study Abroad Not entered
Study Pattern The course will consist of lectures, individual student presentations, and discussion. The exact class format can be somewhat flexible, depending on student numbers at both postgraduate and undergraduate levels. Presentations and essays will involve independent research to find relevant sources, while class discussion will usually centre around two specific journal articles per week. All these are available electronically. For postgraduates, the course will be 10 weeks: 2-hour weekly lecture slots, plus five 1-hour tutorials for MSc students. Undergraduates and postgraduates will attend the same lectures and participate in student presentations. The presentations, including debate, will form an important part of the learning environment, and postgraduates will be expected to be able to perform at a very high level, with appropriate postgraduate-level (SCQF Level 11) preparation, and bringing in any knowledge they may have from previous studies in other disciplines.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Alan Barnard
Tel: (0131 6)50 3938
Course secretaryMs Jessica Barton
Tel: (0131 6)51 1659
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