Oh Art, how under appreciated you have been as a mechanism for human proliferation and prosperity. You have been there since day one, allowing us to symbolically represent the world around us, but you have done so much more…
Psychologist Richard Coss recently published a new study in the journal of Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture that suggests that the development of Art was essential to the survival of homo sapiens. Coss suggests that there is a “causal relationship between the evolved ability of anatomically modern humans to throw spears accurately and their ability to draw representational images.”
Neanderthals, which were endemic to Europe and hunting tamer prey used thrusting spears and killed their prey in close quarters. Meanwhile, homo sapiens spent there years hunting the Savannah’s of Africa, where their prey was far more vigilant and dangerous, making it harder and riskier to get in close for the kill. To adapt to the situation in Africa, homo sapiens developed throwing spears and hunted from range. This increased level of skill led to the to the evolution of larger rounder craniums and bigger parietal cortex’s; the region of the brain that consolidates visual imagery and motor coordination.
Coss tells us that “Neanderthals could mentally visualise previously seen animals from working memory, but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patters required for drawing.” So due to having easier prey, Neanderthals didn’t develop the part of the brain required to create Art. These drawings could then be used to instruct and teach future generations of homo sapiens. Coss “Since the act of drawing enhances observational skills, perhaps these drawings were useful for conceptualising hunts, evaluating game attentiveness, selecting vulnerable body areas as targets, and fostering group cohesiveness via spiritual ceremonies.”
Going forward, I think one of the most important elements mentioned here is “fostering group cohesiveness”. When homo sapiens wondered their way out of Africa and made they’re way to Europe, they came across Neanderthals. They inhabited the same land and endured the same climate, so why do homo sapiens survive to this day in a climate we did not evolve in when Neanderthals went extinct, in an area they had evolved to survive in?
If you guessed Art, you guessed correct. Treat yourself. Give this clip a watch,it’s from the BBC program The Incredible Human Journey (if you find the time, watch the whole series, really interesting).
So, there you have it, it wasn’t superior technology or anything so tangible. It was Art and the common shared identity it fostered amongst early humans. Maybe if Art was what made us, us, and got us to share, identify, empathise, and cooperate with each other, then maybe we need a global movement of Art with its foundations in global unity, to give us a global identity. To drag us into a future where globalisations benefits all and not just a few. To get people to see past superficial difference such as nationality or race. To again, take us to the next stage of human evolution.