Symbolic thought is what makes us human. Claude Levi-Strauss stated that we can never know the genesis of symbolic thought, but in this powerful new study Alan Barnard argues that we can. Continuing the line of analysis initiated in Social Anthropology and Human Origins (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Genesis of Symbolic Thought applies ideas from social anthropology, old and new, to understand some of the areas also being explored in fields as diverse as archaeology, linguistics, genetics and neuroscience. Barnard aims to answer questions including: when and why did language come into being? What was the earliest religion? And what form did social organization take before humanity dispersed from the African continent? Rejecting the notion of hunter-gatherers as 'primitive', Barnard hails the great sophistication of the complex means of their linguistic and symbolic expression and places the possible origin of symbolic thought at as early as 130,000 years ago.
Alan Barnard is Professor of the Anthropology of Southern Africa at the University of Edinburgh, where he has taught since 1978. He has undertaken a wide range of ethnographic fieldwork and archaeological research in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, is a participant in the British Academy Centenary Research project 'From Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain' and serves as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia in Scotland. His numerous publications include History and Theory in Anthropology (2000) and Social Anthropology and Human Origins (2011). In 2010 Professor Barnard was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.
1. Introduction; 2. Stones, bones, ochre and beads; 3. Kinship, sociality and the symbolic order; 4. Ritual and religion; 5. The flowering of language; 6. Conquering the globe; 7. After symbolic thought: the Neolithic; 8. Conclusion.