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Curr Anthropol. 2003 Dec;44(5):627-51.

The origin of modern human behavior.

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Centre for Development Studies, Univesity of Bergen, Norway, and State University of New York, Stony Brook, USA.


Archaeology's main contribution to the debate over the origins of modern humans has been investigating where and when modern human behavior is first recognized in the archaeological record. Most of this debate has been over the empirical record for the appearance and distribution of a set of traits that have come to be accepted as indicators of behavioral modernity. This debate has resulted in a series of competing models that we explicate here, and the traits are typically used as the test implications for these models. However, adequate tests of hypotheses and models rest on robust test implications, and we argue here that the current set of test implications suffers from three main problems: (1) Many are empirically derived from and context-specific to the richer European record, rendering them problematic for use in the primarily tropical and subtropical African continent. (2) They are ambiguous because other processes can be invoked, often with greater parsimony, to explain their character. (3) Many lack theoretical justification. In addition, there are severe taphonomic problems in the application of these test implications across differing spans of time. To provide adequate tests of these models, archaeologists must first subject these test implications to rigorous discussion, which is initiated here.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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