We live in a world surrounded by remarkable cultural achievements of human kind. Almost every day we hear of new innovations in technology, in medicine and in the arts which remind us that humans are capable of remarkable creativity. But what is human creativity? The modern world provides a tiny fraction of cultural diversity and the evidence for human creativity, far more can be seen by looking back into prehistory. The book examines how our understanding of human creativity can be extended by exploring this phenomenon during human evolution and prehistory.
The book offers unique perspectives on the nature of human creativity from archaeologists who are concerned with long term patterns of cultural change and have access to quite different types of human behaviour than that which exists today. It asks whether humans are the only creative species, or whether our extinct relatives such as Homo habilis and the Neanderthals also displayed creative thinking. It explores what we can learn about the nature of human creativity from cultural developments during prehistory, such as changes in the manner in which the dead were buried, monuments constructed, and the natural world exploited. In doing so, new light is thrown on these cultural developments and the behaviour of our prehistoric ancestors.
By examining the nature of creativity during human evolution and prehistory these archaeologists, supported by contributions from psychology, computer science and social anthropology, show that human creativity is a far more diverse and complex phenomena than simply flashes of genius by isolated individuals. Indeed they show that unless perspectives from prehistory are taken into account, our understanding of human creativity will be limited and incomplete.
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Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Pro-Vice Chancellor for International and External Affairs at the University of Reading. Having originally studied at the Slade School for Fine Art, he has a BA degree in Archaeology (Sheffield University), an MSc in Biological Computation (York University) and a PhD in Archaeology (Cambridge University). He was appointed a lecturer at the University of Reading in 1992, where he has since served as Head of the School of Human and Environmental Sciences (2003 2008) and Dean of the Faculty of Science (2008 2010) prior to his present appointment as a Pro Vice Chancellor. He directs archaeological fieldwork projects in Western Scotland, where he is attempting to reconstruct Mesolithic settlement patterns, and in southern Jordan where he is excavating the early Neolithic village of WF16 in Wadi Faynan. In addition to such archaeological research, he has sought to develop interdisciplinary approaches to the past by integrating archaeology with theories and methods from the environmental and cognitive sciences. He is the author of several books including The Prehistory of the Mind (1996), After the Ice (2003), The Singing Neanderthals (2005) and To the Islands (2010), and editor of The Early Prehistory of Wadi Faynan (2007, with Bill Finlayson) and Hunter-Gatherer Landscape Archaeology (2000). Steven Mithen was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003.
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