Cognitive Paleoethology and the Origins of Human ExpertiseColin Allen (University of Pittsburgh)
5200 N. Lake Road
The late Pliocene to early Pleistocene period, roughly 3.5 to 1.5 million years ago, marks an important anatomical and behavioral inflection point in the evolution of our hominin ancestors. The expanding geographical range, expanding tool kit, and expanding brains during this era constitutes a pivotal point in human evolution. What is known and what might be inferred about the cognitive capacities of these hominins? I will describe a diverse set of evidence relevant to this question that includes not just the traces of extinct organisms, but direct comparisons to extant species, especially chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans using methods that are still being developed. I adapt a set of guidelines, cautions, and heuristics developed by others for paleoethology, the study of the behavior of extinct organisms, to the cognitive paleoethology of early hominins, and I apply this framework to the specific topic of the evolution of expertise and the recognition of expertise in the hominin lineage.
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