Hunter-Gatherer Sociality and the Origins of Human Normative Thinking

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Andrea Bamberg Migliano, Lucio Vinicius


Reconstructing the origin and evolution of culturally transmitted norms and institutions in the hominin lineage since our split from a common ancestry with African apes is a daunting task. By investigating the social structures of extant simple hunter-gatherers, as well as the evidence of extensive social networks and long-distance trade in early modern humans, we believe that regulation of social interactions, trade, and technological exchanges may have been present at least since the origin of Homo sapiens over 300 kya. We therefore speculate that the regulation of collective brains and exchange of knowledge through norms and institutions may have been present in the first hunter-gatherers, later taking new forms in complex hunter-gatherers and post-Neolithic societies, and finally in historic and Westernized societies. Hence, the processes currently identifiable in current hunter-gatherers as social and market integration may also have been a key social feature in earlier hominins. This perspective does not deny that between-group conflict in the manner envisaged by parochial altruism and cultural group selection has become a more influential factor in relatively recent times. We therefore mirror the view proposed by Sewall Wright, who emphasized the importance of between-group interconnectivity as a catalyzing force for most of human evolution. We conclude that human norms and moral systems can be seen as social technology tools responsible for the coordination of functions of collective brains and as such were the product of stepwise cumulative cultural evolution.



Social and Behavioral Sciences


social norms, human evolution, hunter-gatherers


Published: 2024-06-03 02:23


CC-By Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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