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Embodiment, Enaction, and CultureInvestigating the Constitution of the Shared World$
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Christoph Durt, Thomas Fuchs, and Christian Tewes

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035552

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035552.001.0001

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Ornamental Feathers without Mentalism: A Radical Enactive View on Neanderthal Body Adornment

Ornamental Feathers without Mentalism: A Radical Enactive View on Neanderthal Body Adornment

(p.279) 15 Ornamental Feathers without Mentalism: A Radical Enactive View on Neanderthal Body Adornment
Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture

Duilio Garofoli

The MIT Press

Evidence of feather extraction from scavenging birds by late Neanderthal populations, supposedly for ornamental reasons, has been recently used to bolster the case for Neanderthal symbolism and cognitive equivalence with modern humans. This argument resonates with the idea that the production and long-term maintenance of body ornaments necessarily require a cluster of abilities defined here as the material symbolism package. This implies the construction of abstract meanings, which are then mentally imposed to artifacts and socially shared through full-blown mindreading, assisted by a meta-representational language. However, a set of radical enactive abilities, mainly direct social perception and situated concepts, is sufficient to explain the emergence of ornamental feathers without necessarily involving the material symbolism package. The embodied social structure created by body ornaments, augmented through behavioral-contextual narratives, suffices to explain even the long-term maintenance of this practice without mentalism. Costly neurocentric assumptions conceiving the material symbolism package as a homuncular adaptation are eschewed by applying a non-symbolic interpretation of feathers as cognitive scaffolds. It will be concluded that the presence of body adornment traditions in the Neanderthal archaeological record does not warrant the cognitive equivalence with modern humans, for it does not constrain a meta-representational level of meaning.

Keywords:   cognitive archaeology, radical enactivism, early body ornaments, Neanderthals, theory of mind, material engagement

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