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What is the CECD? 
The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 2: Theme B - Cultural and linguistic diversity: Project B010
Pre-sapiens cultural learning strategies

SUPERVISOR: - Dietrich Stout and James Steele

Dietrich Stout (Department of Anthropology, Emory University)
James Steele (AHRC CECD, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

PROJECT FUNDING: Cards Against Humanity
fridge freezers

In this research project, we will systematically explore aspects of the elementary gestures involved in human speech articulation and in human tool production and use. Our purpose will be to determine parameters that constrain the evolution of goal-directed action sequences made up of elementary gestures of this kind, and to define markers which can be used to assign values to these parameters in fossil and archaeological material. In this way, we can build a scientific tool-kit to track the emergence of human speech and tool-using capacities in a rigorous manner. We also intend to re-evaluate the possibility that goal-directed action in the manipulative domain may have co-evolved with complexity of articulatory manoeuvres in vocal communication, reflecting shared features of neural architecture.

We completed the planned fMRI study of stone knapping skill acquisition, which revealed that increased expertise in stone knapping results in a shift in observational action understanding strategies from bottom-up simulation (evidenced by mirror system activation) to top-down interpretation (activation of medial prefrontal “Theory of Mind” region). This has important implications for language evolution in that it sheds light on the mechanisms and levels of intention sharing (“parity”) in technological action. We also completed a study of hand postures during Oldowan and Acheulean toolmaking, using a data glove to record detained real-time data on finger joint angle. Surprisingly this showed that the technologies were of equal manipulative complexity so that differences in neural responses to them must be attributed to higher-level organization.

Stout, D. (2011).
Stone toolmaking and the evolution of human culture and cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. Vol 366:1050-9.
Stout, D., Passingham, R., Frith, C., Apel, J., Chaminade, T (2011).
Technology, expertise, and social cognition in human evolution. European Journal of Neuroscience. European Journal of Neuroscience. Vol 33:1328–1338.
Blandine Bril, Jeroen Smaers, James Steele, Robert Rein, Tetsushi Nonaka, Gilles Dietrich, Elena Biryukova, Satoshi Hirata and Valentine Roux (2011).
Functional mastery of ‘percussive technology’ in nut-cracking and stoneflaking actions: experimental comparison and implications for the evolution of the human brain. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B.
Faisal, A., Stout, D., Apel, J, Bradley, B (2010).
The manipulative complexity of Lower Paleolithic stone tool-making. PLoS ONE. Vol 5(11):e13718.
Stout, D (2009).
Making tools and making sense: complex, intentional behaviour in human evolution. Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Vol 9(1) :85-96.
Stout, D., Toth, N., Schick, K. D. & Chaminade, T (2008).
Neural correlates of Early Stone Age tool-making: technology, language and cognition in human evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. Vol 363:1939-1949.
Stout, D. and T. Chaminade (2007).
The evolutionary neuroscience of tool making. Neuropsychologia. Vol 45:1091-1100.