The development of language was one of the key factors that enabled the emergence of the modern mind, with its seemingly unlimited powers of imagination, curiosity and invention. It is one of the things that makes us human and, whether gestural, written or spoken, allows us to communicate ideas from the most mundane to the most profound. But while the origins of language have provoked furious debate, those of music- our other major vocal and aural communication system have been oddly neglected, and though many have picked at the puzzle, its evolutionary significance has often been dismissed.
In The Singing Neanderthals, Mithen puts the popular notion of music as the language of emotion on a scientific basis, offering a new scenario for a shared musical and linguistic heritage. Structured in two parts, this books offers an array of evidence from the present which is exposed to fossil and archaeological records from the past. And fascinating ground is covered- from emotionally manipulative gibbons, through the neurological basis of music and language to the impact of happiness on helpfulness, and from the role of laughter in parent-child bonding to the impact of bipedalism on the brains and voices of our ancestors. In doing so, Mithen explains why there are such profound similarities and differences between music and language, and why music plays such a big part in all of our lives.
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Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and head of the School of Human and environmental Sciences at Reading University. Author of numerous books and articles, he has also consulted and appeared on TV and radio programmes about prehistory around the world. He has directed fieldwork in Western Scotland and is currently co-directing excavations in Wadi Faynan, southern Jordan.From Scientific American:
Early hominids largely looked and acted like apes. With one key difference: they stood and walked upright. This change in posture and mobility had profound implications for our evolution and "may have initiated the greatest musical revolution in human history." That is the ironic conclusion of Reading University archaeologist Steven Mithen, who continues his search for the essence of human behavior in his latest book, The Singing Neanderthals. Particularly within the past two million years, early humans refined the ability to walk, run and jump. With big brains and bottoms, spring-loaded legs, and sophisticated sensorimotor control, they could also dance, Mithen argues, if not sing. With a fascinating blend of neurology, anatomy, archaeology, developmental psychology and musicology, Mithen seeks the source of our propensity for making music, a universal human feature that has been strangely neglected compared with the origin of language. Darwin, naturally, touched on the topic, positing that unable to woo with words, our ancestors "endeavored to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm." Essential to both bipedal locomotion and music, rhythm plays a pivotal role as well in language. Music and language share other intriguing attributes. Both can move or manipulate us. Both can be spoken, written or gestured. Both possess hierarchical structure. And both seem to activate multiple regions of our brains. Mithen takes on linguist Steven Pinker’s assertion that music is just an entertaining invention, not a crucial biological adaptation like language. He carefully constructs and deliberately lays out his argument that music’s evolution holds the key to language. Yes, language ultimately supplanted music’s role in emotional expression and became our means of conveying ideas and information. Music, however, still stirs our most basic emotions. Until the relatively recent advent of syntactic language in modern humans, Mithen maintains, it was music that helped hominids find a mate, soothe a child, cheer a companion or provide a group’s social glue. Like language, much of music does not fossilize. We have elegant bird-bone flutes as old as 36,000 years from sites in Germany and France—unequivocal musical instruments. Beyond that, one is hard-pressed to display tangible evidence of music’s role in prehuman society. Mithen must speculate that Neandertals, for instance, strummed stalactites, drummed on mammoth skulls or otherwise made music without leaving a trace. But step inside a cave used by prehistoric people, and it is easy to appreciate its acoustic potential. By drawing data from a diverse range of disciplines, Mithen makes a persuasive case that our ancestors got rhythm and brings to prehistory a sense of sound.
Blake Edgar is a science editor and writer. He is co-author of From Lucy to Language, forthcoming in a revised edition from Simon & Schuster, and of The Dawn of Human Culture (John Wiley & Sons, 2002).
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Book Description Orion Publishing Group, 2005. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110297643177
Book Description Orion Publishing Group. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0297643177 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1008163