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Genesis of Symbolic Thought

  • Date Published: June 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107651098

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About the Authors
  • Symbolic thought is what makes us human. Claude Lévi-Strauss stated that we can never know the genesis of symbolic thought, but in this powerful new study Alan Barnard argues that we can. Continuing the line of analysis initiated in Social Anthropology and Human Origins (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Genesis of Symbolic Thought applies ideas from social anthropology, old and new, to understand some of the areas also being explored in fields as diverse as archaeology, linguistics, genetics and neuroscience. Barnard aims to answer questions including: when and why did language come into being? What was the earliest religion? And what form did social organization take before humanity dispersed from the African continent? Rejecting the notion of hunter-gatherers as 'primitive', Barnard hails the great sophistication of the complex means of their linguistic and symbolic expression and places the possible origin of symbolic thought at as early as 130,000 years ago.

    • An exploration of the origins of the symbolic thought from one of the world's leading social anthropologists
    • Applies ideas from social anthropology to understand areas also being explored in fields as diverse as archaeology, linguistics, genetics and neuroscience
    • Reconsiders the explosion of art, religion and language that lies at the heart of what makes us human
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Barnard attempts to answer the question of when and how human symbolic thought originated … The book is written in a way that should make it easily understood by nonspecialists, but it should be of value and interest to specialists as well … Recommended. All levels/libraries.' C. L. Thompson, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107651098
    • length: 208 pages
    • dimensions: 227 x 152 x 10 mm
    • weight: 0.33kg
    • contains: 14 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Stones, bones, ochre and beads
    3. Kinship, sociality and the symbolic order
    4. Ritual and religion
    5. The flowering of language
    6. Conquering the globe
    7. After symbolic thought: the Neolithic
    8. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Alan Barnard, University of Edinburgh
    Alan Barnard is Professor of the Anthropology of Southern Africa at the University of Edinburgh, where he has taught since 1978. He has undertaken a wide range of ethnographic fieldwork and archaeological research in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, is a participant in the British Academy Centenary Research project 'From Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain' and serves as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia in Scotland. His numerous publications include History and Theory in Anthropology (2000) and Social Anthropology and Human Origins (2011). In 2010 Professor Barnard was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

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