CARTA: Imagination:Lyn Wadley-Origins of Human Imagination/How Technology Enhances Our Imagination


(piano music) – [Narrator] We are the paradoxical ape. Bipedal, naked, large-brained. Long the master of fire,
tools, and language but still trying to understand ourselves. Aware that death is inevitable, yet filled with optimism. We grow up slowly. We hand down knowledge. We empathize and deceive. We shape the future from our shared understanding of the past. Carta brings together experts
from diverse disciplines to exchange insights on who
we are and how we got here. An exploration made possible by the generosity of humans like you. (upbeat jingle) (upbeat music) – Good afternoon. Imagination makes huge
demands on the brain. And when we use imagination, there’s neural connectivity that occurs between many areas of the brain. But not all brains are equal, so people who have high creativity brains have different networks
from those who don’t. This means that the study of imagination and the study of brains
is not a linear thing. Face recognition in objects requires a certain
proportion of brain power that we call the face recognition area and when people are thinking about faces, this is what is activated. Now, archeologists, and
I’m an archeologist, can’t access brains. All we can do is to have a look at items of material culture as proxies for imagination in the deep past. But how far back can we go? And it’s perhaps important or relevant in a group like this to
say once upon a time. (audience laughing) Three million years ago,
at Makapan in South Africa, this little jaspilite pebble was found and the question of course is, did Australopithecus
have a face-recognition part of the brain? And about 300,000 years ago, this flint hand-ax, with
a shell in its center, was found in the UK. And here, the question
is, was the fossil shell perhaps more important
than the tool itself? Did it spark imagination? And about 300,000 years ago in Israel, at Berekhat Ram, this little object that some people think
was a figurine was found and the use-wear traces
on it were analyzed by Francesca d’Errico and April Nowell and they discovered that it had, in fact, been purposely modified. It had been ground and there were some nick
marks around the neck. What they also found,
however, was that red powder tends to come off when this is ground and so maybe it wasn’t
a symbolic artifact, even though it had been
purposefully modified. Now, the important point about all three of these objects that I’ve shown you is that they represent outliers, not regular patterned behavior. And if we’re thinking about
imagination and symbolism, we need to know that
this is shared behavior. So all of these objects
could be accidental. There, of course, they
give us a very nice clue as to her early imagination
may have arisen. Proxies for imagination appear very regularly in the last 100,000 years. So there’s no problem about
recognizing them then. And they tend to multiply
exponentially after that. So the first ones I’m going to show you are from Diepkloof in South Africa. The oldest of these engraved egg shells is 100,000 years old and they were found up ’til
about 60,000 years ago. We know that they’re water bottles because some of the openings, down on the the bottom right there, have the ground openings
just like the ones in the Kalahari today, where you see a woman pouring water
into this water bottle. You can see that her water bottle is a little decorated there
too, whereas the older ones, in fact, have much greater variety of decoration on them and perhaps engaged more imagination. Refitting suggests that the Diepkloof water bottles were highly decorated. You can see that the patterning
was all over them there. What I think is really important is that the engraved eggshell
occurs at many sites. So we see it here at Klipdrift and at sites up in, Namibian. There, you see a pathway
up towards the west that has engraved eggshell, whereas the perforated marine shells that I’m about to show you have a pathway that goes up the eastern
part of Southern Africa. They don’t only occur in the eastern part of Southern Africa, they go right the way up to North Africa
and into Israel as well. So let’s have a look at those. These perforated marine
shells that are probably beads are 72,000 years old and yet, the ones further
north are even older. Some experimental work by Marian Vanhaeren has suggested that people imaginatively strung these together in different ways. The oldest ones, at the top, were strung together in
little pairs like that. The ones in the middle
were strung back to back. And then the younger beads were strung in even a different way. Again, using imagination. I think it’s important that shell beads are also found at Sibudu and Klasies River in South Africa. So once again, we have an
established behavioral pattern. The Sibudu ones are 72,000 years old. The Klasies ones, a similar age. But there’s much other technology that occurs in the last 100,000 years, that demonstrates the imagination
of people at the time. You’ve already seen the
Blombos engraved piece of ochre that is 72,000 years old. There’s other engraved
ochre from Blombos too. So, once again, we see a pattern there. There is engraved ochre at Klasies River and at several other South African sites. At 100,000 years ago at Blombos, paint was manufactured in an abalone shell and this was red ochre mixed with a number of ingredients including
an unknown liquid. We don’t know what the paint was used for, but we do know that it was a compound, complex mixture. At Sibudu, there’s also paint. It was found on this flake here and this paint was made out
of ground red ochre powder, mixed with casein, casein
being a milk product. Was this perhaps the first tempera paint that was ever used in the world? I think it may have been. At Sibudu, there are also
many imaginative adhesives, made out of things like
red ochre and resin or red ochre mixed with graphite, mixed with other products, sometimes fat, a whole variety of adhesive recipes. Also at Sibudu, this
time at 77,000 years ago, people imagined how they
could get rid of insects that buzzed around their
bedding, annoyingly, at night. And so they placed aromatic leaves, in this case, Cryptocarya,
on top of the sedge bedding and these aromatic leaves
are slightly poisonous and probably kept the mosquitoes away. Burial, something that has only briefly been mentioned up until now, allows our imagination in a different way, because when we see a burial, we know that people were
imagining ancestors. They were thinking about the after-people, as well as the afterlife. The earliest burial that
we know about so far, comes from Israel, at Skhul and Qafzeh. And here, the burials, which are repeated, as many as 10 at a time, have been buried with shell
beads, perforated marine shell and red ochre as grave goods. Then, at Border Cave in
the Lebombo Mountains of South Africa, at 72,000 years ago, an infant was buried
with this conus shell, which had been perforated,
perhaps as a pendant. The little sketches over on the left were from the excavation in the 1940s. Through time, burials
became much more complex. And here in Russia, at 34,000 years ago, we see one of the most beautiful burials that has come to light so far. It’s a young man on the left, that’s the archeological example, covered with 3,000 mammoth ivory beads with fox canines and bangles made of ivory and the reconstruction on the right suggests that these decorative items may have been stitched onto the clothing that he was buried in. But when we think of imagination, we can hardly separate it from fantasy. And probably the earliest secure archeological evidence for fantasy is the Lion-Man from Germany, 32,000 years ago. This is an ivory figurine, the figurine of a human
figure with a lion head. This kind of therianthrope, because the mixture of
animal and human features defines a therianthrope, it’s a manifestation
of an abstract concept but it really is the first evidence that we have of true fantasy. It’s not the only one, though. And at Apollo 11 in Namibia, 27,000 years ago, the motif of a feline is used again. Here on the painted slab, you
see half-human, half-feline. The head is a feline and
the back legs are human. And this slab was buried
in the little cave that you see up on the top left there. Now, all the evidence that
we have for imagination and highly developed technology, some of which I’ve shown you, can be used to imply that
we had complex cognition and modern brains way before any of this evidence that I’ve shown you, right back to 300,000 years ago, when homo sapiens first arrived in the archeological evidence. But for once, let’s turn this
idea on its head and say, material culture itself is not passive. And so when people manipulate items, when they work on material culture, this is stimulating their imagination and their cognition. And by doing, we develop
the brains even more, we develop imagination further and it’s this kind of thing that leads to increased technological development through time, increased imagination,
increased creativity. And thus, we can say that technology and cognition and imagination engage with each other reflectively and reflexively. And the reflexivity that we see between the technology and
the cognition and imagination gave rise to what I’ve
demonstrated to you, the exponential growth of material culture by 100,000 years ago. So all of the things that I’ve shown you, beads, paint, art, engraved ochre, engraved ostrich egg
shell, adhesive recipes, bow and arrow, that I haven’t mentioned, new tool classes and burial, all of these appear very rapidly by 100,000 years ago. We may have had the humble beginnings of this earlier than that, but certainly, we get definitive evidence by 100,000 years ago. Thank you. (audience applauding) (upbeat music)

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