- caring for the sick and old
- burying the dead
- bone tools
- long-distance trade
This is often shortened to the Behavioural B’s: blades, beads, burials, bone toolmaking, and beauty.
At the heart of most of these behaviours is symbolic thinking: one thing stands for something else. Like with pictures, words and imagination.
This shows up even in tools: tools are made better than they have to be for their use, they look better and take more steps to make. They are made not just for some particular use but to match the picture in the mind of the maker.
The Neanderthals, who might belong to our species, were probably able to do some of these things but maybe not all of them: behavioural modernity was appearing in Europe big time just when the Neanderthals were disappearing – as if they could not keep up.
Now here is the strange thing: According to the fossil record behavioural modernity burst into flower between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago – yet there were people who looked just like us, who were anatomically modern (understood to be Homo sapiens sapiens), at least 195,000 years ago, probably as far back as 250,000 years ago!
The gap between anatomical and behavioural modernity has become one of the mysteries of early man. In the rest of the fossil record archaeologically visible changes in brain, hand and technology go together. Not so, it seems, with Homo sapiens!
There are two main schools of thought:
- The Great Leap Forward: About 80,000 years ago a brain mutation made language at modern levels possible, which in turn made behavioural modernity possible. All this without changing the way people look since it was a mere brain change, one that did not even affect brain size.
- The continuity hypothesis: Anatomically modern humans have always been behaviourally modern, but it has taken time for it to show up in the fossil record. Things like beads and blades do not appear overnight even if people have the brains to think them up and make them. Forks, for example, did not appear till a thousand years ago.
Some argue the Great Leap Forward was merely a technological boom. After all, mankind has seen other such booms, like the pyramids and moon shots, without any apparent brain change. The boom may have been caused by climate change during the ice age or a sudden increase in population and trade.
I argue that the Great Leap Forward is a Eurocentric illusion. Europe has far more scientists than Africa and so it has a far more complete fossil record. The Great Leap Forward is based mainly on European fossils and come from a time when anatomically modern humans arrive on the scene in Europe. So no wonder. In time African fossils will wipe out the apparent gap, as they have been doing for the past ten years.