A Paleolithic Reciprocation Crisis: Symbols, Signals, and Norms

Kim Sterelny*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    47 Citations (Scopus)


    Within paleoanthropology, the origin of behavioral modernity is a famous problem. Very large-brained hominins have lived for around half a million years, yet social lives resembling those known from the ethnographic record appeared perhaps 100,000 years ago. Why did it take 400,000 years for humans to start acting like humans? In this article, I argue that part of the solution is a transition in the economic foundations of cooperation from a relatively undemanding form, to one that imposed much more stress on human motivational and cognitive mechanisms. The rich normative, ceremonial, and ideological lives of humans are a response to this economic revolution in forager lives; from one depending on immediate return mutualism to one depending on delayed and third-party reciprocation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)65-77
    Number of pages13
    JournalBiological Theory
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014

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