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Department of Archaeology

Staff

Publication details for Prof Paul Pettitt

Pettitt, P.B & White, M.J. (2011). Cave Men: stone tools, Victorian science and the ‘primitive mind’ of deep time. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 65(1): 25-42.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Palaeoanthropology, the study of the evolution of humanity, arose in the nineteenth century. Excavations in Europe uncovered a series of archaeological sediments which provided proof that the antiquity of human life on Earth was far longer than the biblical six thousand years, and by the 1880s authors had constructed a basic paradigm of what ‘primitive’ human life was like. Here we examine the development of Victorian palaeoanthropology for what it reveals of the development of notions of cognitive evolution. It seems that Victorian specialists rarely addressed cognitive evolution explicitly, although several assumptions were generally made that arose from preconceptions derived from contemporary ‘primitive’ peoples. We identify three main phases of development of notions of the primitive mind in the period.