"...the behaviour of most present day humans remains moderated by magical thinking-type mental processes (lack of integration between the left prefrontal cortical areas and memory), underwritten by sub-optimal cause and effect perception."

Robert G. Bednarik, An aetiology of hominin behaviour, Homo, 2012

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rabbits, neoteny and “modern humans”

"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit.

 "No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way."

I was looking for a tenuous link to rabbits and happened upon this quote from Pooh, apparently describing the course of Pleistocene Archaeology.

Rabbits featured in the news recently but anthropologists and archaeologists may have missed the relevance.

Science Daily announced:

“An international team of scientists has now made a breakthrough by showing that many genes controlling the development of the brain and the nervous system were particularly important for rabbit domestication. The study is published today in Science and gives answers to many genetic questions.”

The domestication of rabbits took place fairly recently, purportedly in the last 1,400 years. This has made the task of unravelling the genetic changes that took place less complex than for other animals domesticated much earlier, for instance, humans.

“We predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and that we will not find a few specific "domestication genes" that were critical for domestication. It is very likely that a similar diversity of gene variants affecting the brain and the nervous system occurs in the human population and that contributes to differences in personality and behaviour, says Leif Andersson”.

Indeed, 50,000 years of domestication brought about major changes that are observed in the hominin fossil record, many of which were deleterious and contrary to natural selection. Only sexual selection can trump natural selection and therefore if the discipline of Pleistocene Archaeology is sincere in its’ quest to unravel the early history of “modern humans” it desperately needs to acknowledge that the “Leaky replacement theory”, “Mostly Out of Africa” and other such models fail to address those changes which are most central to the current “human condition” (Bednarik 2011). Culturally determined sexual selection was ultimately responsible for the rapid decrease in brain volume (37 times that of the previous expansion over the course of millions of years) and 50% reduction in robusticity. These are just two of the traits which are frequently observed in the domestication of animals.

 “The study also revealed which genes had been altered during domestication. The researchers were amazed by the strong enrichment of genes involved in the development of the brain and the nervous system, among the genes particularly targeted during domestication.”

Considered in the context of human domestication this makes perfect sense of “brain re-organisation” especially when the selection is moderated by culturally determined significance. Indeed this process of selection for culturally perceived values continues to the present day and reflects many different pressures and influences including dominance and compliance.

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