Accepted paper:

What does current work on ethnobiological knowledge and its management tell us about the deep history of human cultural cognition?


Roy Ellen (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

Attempts to reclaim social anthropology for the study of human origins say little about environmental perception, while work on the origins of cultural cognition ignores the ethnography of everyday practice. How might we reconcile these approaches in relation to ethnobiological knowledge systems?

Paper long abstract:

This paper begins with the observation that recent projects to reclaim social anthropology for the study of human origins seem strangely to have little to say about the cognition of the natural world, while general work on the cultural origins of human cognition has paid slight attention to ethnographic data on the organization of everyday practices. Yet, how early humans organized their knowledge of plants and animals must have been crucial for certain key adaptations at successive thresholds of evolutionary change. Drawing on attempts to reconcile ethnography and lab-based work (as reflected, for example, in collaborative research of Scott Atran and Douglas Medin), as well as on a large body of empirical work comparing the perception, engagement and management of 'nature' amongst peoples living in a diversity of environmental and social contexts, this paper offers a critical review of studies of ethnobiological knowledge systems that have a bearing on our understanding of human evolution.

panel P41
Social anthropology and human origins