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The costs of technology and skill learning: Experimental methods and evolutionary implications

When: Tuesday, 11 December 2018 - Tuesday, 11 December 2018
Where: Braamfontein Campus East
Origins Centre
Start time:13:15
Enquiries: / 011 717-4700

Dr Justin Pargeter will present this public lecture.

Humans have evolved a unique ‘technological niche' comprising the ability for sophisticated object manipulation, modification, and the social reproduction of technological information.

The archaeological record provides a valuable source of evidence for tracing these processes, but interpretation of this evidence remains challenging and controversial. Justin will talk about his recent experimental study of Acheulean handaxe-making skill acquisition involving twenty-six naïve subjects and up to 90 hours training over several months, accompanied by a battery of psychometric, behavioural, and neuroimaging assessments in addition to extensive artifact analysis.

This makes it one of the largest, longest running, and most comprehensive stone tool learning experiments ever performed. Justin focusses on the fundamental problem of quantifying variation in knapping skill over the training period and across individuals. The results identify likely cognitive targets of selection acting on the efficiency or reliability of tool-making skill acquisition, quantify learning costs, highlight the likely importance of social support, motivation, persistence, and self-control in knapping skill acquisition, and establish methods for reliably reconstructing ancient learning processes from archaeological evidence. By better understanding the learning demands of particular Paleolithic technologies through studies like the current one, we can hope to gain insight into the evolutionary emergence of these critical cognitive and social pillars of the human technological niche.

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