7. System Hierarchy and Modern Human Behaviour in the Palaeolithic

These principles clearly offer insights into the appearance (and disappearance) of 'modern human behaviour' in the palaeolithic, understood in terms of increased innovativeness and symbolically charged material culture, providing we understand human action as social practices that are both products of and contributors to knowledge systems organised on multiple scales. Socially incorporated knowledge as a distributed repertoire of structuring principles, that pre-dates individuals and into which individuals are socialised and enculturated, is a scale domain of palaeolithic knowledgeability referable to a high level of the knowledge system hierarchy, characterised by long-term dynamics. On the other hand, knowledgeable action (creative acts carried out by social agents equipped with skills and knowledge acquired through practical experience) can be assigned to lower hierarchical levels at which more rapid, short-term dynamics and processes operate. That the two scale domains exist in mutually reproducing relation is consistent both with hierarchy theory and with the structurationist understandings of the duality of structure. Indeed, the duality of structure can be seen as a particular expression in sociology of the wider hierarchical principle of double asymmetry.

The additional insight that a hierarchical approach affords is the means to understand, in general theoretical terms, why the temporal relationship between socially incorporated knowledge and knowledgeable action might have varied so radically in the course of deep human history. By identifying the social transmission of knowledge as a 'black box' mechanism that connects scale domains of knowledgeability in dynamic interaction, it becomes possible to investigate, using archaeological traces, how these variations developed, or not, at particular times and places in the palaeolithic.

It is here that the significance of the social and demographic models of modern human behaviour lies. The thrust of these models is that the dissemination of behaviours between subpopulations in the palaeolithic was enhanced by factors discussed above, including increased subpopulation size and density, expanded territorial ranges and the migration of individuals between subpopulations. An acceleration in the social transmission of knowledge is precisely what is being modelled, even if it is couched in language different from that used here. In hierarchical terms, an increase in the rate of innovations becoming fixed as persistent practices, and their consequent enhanced accumulation through time, is exactly what would be predicted in the event of an accelerated rate of knowledge transmission.


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