Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker Series

Brain, Mind, and Culture:
What Relationship?

A Presentation by Steven Mithen
Reader in Early Prehistory
Department of Anthropology, Reading University, UK
Monday 14 February 2000 at 4:00 p.m.

McCune Conference Room
Interdisciplinary Humanities Center
(Sixth Floor, Humanities and Social Science Building)


How can humans be so biologically close to our great ape relatives but so radically different in terms of behaviour and thought? How is it that our close relatives, such as the Neanderthals, possessed equivalent sized brains to modern humans and language, but remained culturally archaic, with no signs of art, religious behaviour or scientific thought in their behaviour? In my previous work I have argued that the answers to such questions relate to the particular form of mentality possessed by modern humans within which there is a substantially greater degree of cognitive fluidity than in other types of (extinct) humans and primates. This provided the critical capacity for metaphorical thought that underlies so much of modern culture. In this talk I wish to develop this theme by examining how we should see the products of our culture, such as pieces of art, songs, dance, and social institutions, not only as the products of our modern mentality, but also as its source: such cultural behaviour may indeed be the mechanism by which our minds escaped from the constraints on human thought imposed by the evolutionary history of our brains.


Steven Mithen is Reader in Early Prehistory at Reading University. He studied at Sheffield, York and Cambridge Universities before joining the Department of Archaeology at Reading in 1992. His current fieldwork interests concern survey and excavation for early prehistoric settlement in Wadi Faynan, Jordan, having recently completed a major study of early postglacial hunter-gatherers in western Scotland. His interest in cognitive archaeology and the evolution of the mind led to his 1996 book, The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion, and Science, and to his 1998 edited book on Creativity in Human Evolution and Prehistory. He also has particular interests in computer modeling and prehistoric art.

This presentation is the second (and last) follow-up event to the August 1999 conference on
Imagination and the Adapted Mind, which was co-sponsored by the UC Santa Barbara Office of
Research, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, College of Letters and Science, Departments of
Anthropology, English, and Psychology, as well as the UC Humanities Research Institute. For further information, please e-mail to Paul Hernadi <hernadip@humanitas.ucsb.edu> or call him at

Recent Publications

Creativity in human evolution and prehistory. Edited by Steven Mithen. London; New York: Routledge, 1998.

Mithen, Steven J. (1996). The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Howard Gardner's review in the NYRB.

Kohn, Marek; Mithen, Steven. Handaxes: products of sexual selection? Antiquity 73, 281 (Sept, 1999):518.

Boone, James L.; Smith, Eric Alden; Dennett, Daniel C.; Earle, Timothy; and others. Is it evolution yet? A critique of evolutionary archaeology. (includes comments and reply) (Special Issue: The Neanderthal Problem and the Evolution of Human Behavior). Current Anthropology 39, 3 (June, 1998):S141 (33 pages). Full text; Mithen's commentary.

Mithen, Steven. The origins of anthropomorphic thinking. (response to a comment by Chris Knight and Camilla Power in this issue, p. 129) Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4, 1 (March, 1998):131 (2  pages).

Mithen, Steven. Human Evolution, Language and Mind: A Psychological and Archeological Inquiry. (book reviews). Journal of Anthropological Research 53, 2 (Summer, 1997):251 (2 pages).

Mithen, Steven. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. (book reviews). Journal of Anthropological Research 53, 1 (Spring, 1997):100 (3 pages).

Mithen, Steven. The Maglemose Culture: The Reconstruction of the Social Organization of a Mesolithic Culture in Northern Europe. (book reviews). Antiquity 70, 270 (Dec, 1996):1008 (3 pages).

Mithen, Steven. On Early Paleolithic 'concept-mediated marks,' mental modularity, and the origins of art. (comments on R.G. Bednarik's article in Current Anthropology 36:.605). Current Anthropology 37, 4 (August-Oct, 1996):666 (5 pages).

Edwards, Kevin J.; Mithen, Steven. The colonization of the Hebridean islands of Western Scotland: evidence from the palynological and archaeological records. World Archaeology 26, 3 (Feb, 1995):348 (18 pages).

Mithen, Steven. State of the art: regional rock art studies in Australia and Melanesia. (book reviews). MAN 29, 4 (Dec, 1994):986 (2 pages).

Mithen, Steven. Australian Rock Art: A New Synthesis. (book reviews). MAN 29, 1 (March, 1994):211 (2 pages).

Mithen, Steven. Evolutionary theory and post-processual archaeology. Antiquity 63, 240 (Sept, 1989):483 (12 pages).

Mithen, Steven J. Modeling hunter-gatherer decision making: complementing optimal foraging theory. Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17, 1 (March, 1988):59 (25 pages).

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Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker Series