Posts Tagged 'cognitive archaeology'

Electrodermal hands

After our first research article on stone tool manipulation and electrodermal reaction, here a second one on the effect of hand size and morphology. Females display larger electrodermal variation and higher peaks than males in both arousal and attention, but they also have smaller hands. So, the different electrodermal reaction to tool manipulation could be due to an allometric effect associated with hand size. Accordingly to our results, this is not the case, and these electrophysiological differences during haptic exploration are instead real sex differences, due to biological or cultural factors. By the way, the length and width of the palm are the hand variables with more sexual dimorphism, while the thumb length is the one showing less sexual differences. For a general review on body cognition and cognitive archaeology, you can also see this article on hand-tool interaction, recently published in a  Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences volume dedicated to the Processes of Visuospatial Attention and Working Memory.

Paleoneurology at UCCS

At the end of August we will begin a renewed online course in Human Paleoneurology at the Center for Cognitive Archaeology of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Here a post introducing the course, and the information on registration and credits.

Electrodermal tools

Theories in extended cognition suggest that mind is a process generated by the integration among brain, body and environment (including technology). Actually, tools are integrated into the body structural and functional schemes when handled, and the central nervous system delegates some capacities to these extra-body peripheral elements. Haptics concerns the perceptual and somatic response during hand-tool interaction, bridging sensing and cognition. Electrodermal activity is as a quick and simple proxy for some kinds of cognitive reactions (like attention or general arousal), and can be used to test emotional changes during stone tool handling, according to different tool typologies. Now we have published a full research paper on electrodermal activity during Lower Paleolithic stone tool manipulation. There are subtle but significant differences between males and females, and between choppers and handaxes. Specific physical features of the tools do influence the electrodermal reaction. If the body-tool system is regulated according to a “prosthetic capacity” of our cognitive mechanisms, electrodermal feedback can supply a first glimpse to investigate changes and discontinuities into the archaeological record, following basic principles in psychology and electrophysiology. The main aim is clear:  to move cognitive archaeology into quantitative hypotheses testing.

Haptic cognition

We have now published a second perspective paper on cognitive archaeology and visuospatial integration, this time particularly focused on haptic experience and prehistoric tool handling. The article reviews issues in paleoneurology, parietal evolution and body cognition, and then presents three examples of methodological approaches that can be useful to investigate hand-tool relationships: shape analysis, grasping patterns, and electrodermography. The whole perspective is intimately associated with theories in extended cognition and embodiment. It is important to take in mind that this does not precisely deal with tool-making or tool functional use, but with tool sensing. These three aspects (making, using, and sensing) are cognitively and evolutionarily related, but they are also influenced by distinct biological factors. Tool sensing is something associated with haptic feedback, body cognition and perception, and tool integration in the body scheme. Prosthetic capacity and cognitive extension deal more with sensing (for example, body-tool integration) than with mechanical issues (like, for example, manual precision). Electrodermography can reveal patterns of attention and emotional engagement during the haptic experience. All this is probably part of a powerful visuospatial sketchpad, a crucial component when taking into account the traditional models on working memory. This article is published in a volume of the series Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, entitled “Processes of Visuo-spatial Attention and Working Memory”, edited by Timothy Hodgson (University of Lincoln). This week we have also published a preliminary survey on hand-tool morphometrics.

Visuospatial behaviours

After the perspective paper on visuospatial cognition and human evolution, and the review on visuospatial integration and the fossil record, we have now published a review article on visuospatial behaviors in archaeology. Here, we introduce and discuss parietal cortex evolution, embodiment, tool use and tool making, wayfinding, and the association between physical, chronological, and social spaces. A main target of cognitive archaeology is to test whether modern human cognition is due to a specific prosthetic capacity that enhances the functional relationships between body and technology, offloading brain functions and outsourcing information process to the enviroment. Something similar happens to … spiders! This chapter is part of a book dedicated to the Evolution of Primate Social Cognition (Springer).

Electrodermal archaeology

After all those surveys on parietal lobes and parietal evolution, some years ago we began investigating some functions particularly associated with the parietal cortex, and generically labeled as visuospatial integration. Some visuospatial behaviors can be inferred in fossils, according to anatomical and archaeological evidence. In my lab, we are interested in aspects bridging cognition, body, and tools. In a recent paper published in Progress in Brain Research we have applied electrodermal analysis to investigate the cognitive response during a haptic experience with stone tools. Electrodermal signals have been employed here to evaluate changes in emotion and attention during stone tool manipulation, as to evidence whether different tools exert different cognitive responses when handled. New methods for cognitive archaeology!



The paper is part of a volume entitled “Cerebral Lateralization and Cognition: Evolutionary and Developmental Investigations of Behavioral Biases“, edited by Gillian Forrester, William Hopkins, Kristelle Hudry and Annukka Lindell.

Laterality in Tarragona

Laterality 2013There is a congress on Laterality in Tarragona (Spain), on February 11-13. The meeting is organized by Natalie Uomini (University of Liverpool) and Marina Lozano (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social – IPHES). Speakers will present talks in anthropology, primatology, archaeology, paleontology, and cognitive sciences. Posters are welcome. The meeting will also include a visit to the Mona Foundation, a recovery centre for primates.

Trees and ladders

One of the best things on cognitive archaeology is that it is providing different perspectives. Marco Langbroek in a recent paper entitled “Trees and ladders” evidences that while paleontology and archaeology rely nowadays on branching schemes, cognitive theories are still linear, forcing interpretations along a straight worst-to-better axis of improvement. Non-human primates are still used as the negative pole of such vector, and modern human behaviour as the positive one. First, cognitive theories should rethink such linear perspective, acknowledging the paleontological and archaeological evidence. Second, despite we shouldn’t neglect the complexity of modern cognition, we may wonder if other human species could have had specific cognitive skills. As a matter of fact, because human evolution was composed by different independent lineages, extinct taxa can have had species-specific cognitive abilities that we have lost, or even never had.

Neandertal learning

An international conference will be held in Tokyo (18-24 November, 2012) entitled “Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans: Testing Evolutionary Models of Learning”. The meeting is associated with a very large multidisciplinary project aimed at considering Neandertal cognition, evolution, and extinction, in terms of learning capabilities. Anatomists, archaeologists, paleontologists, psychologists, and many specialists from other fields will meet to discuss cognitive differences between modern humans and Neandertals, most of all those possibly involved in the transmission of culture.



There is a very comprehensive review on numerosity and cognitive archaeology by Coolidge and Overmann, in Current Anthropology: numerosity, abstraction, and the emergence of symbolic thinking. The authors propose that numerosity may be a key feature of human brain evolution, integrating information from neuroscience, paleontology, and archaeology. A network based on the integration between frontal and parietal areas may underlie the ability to manage numbers, abstract thinking, language, and metaphor production. The hypothesis is commented by psychologists, archaeologists, neuroanatomists, neurobiologists, and paleontologists.

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