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Excavating the mind

The mind is best understood by examining what people actually did at different points in human evolution. Anthony Gottlieb finds that archaeologists are the most useful guides to consciousness

By Anthony Gottlieb   December 1996

How archaeologists must sometimes long to be asked to find a needle in a haystack. Such a task is simple compared with the grind of completing jigsaws within jigsaws, in which the pieces of one puzzle cannot even be identified without solving another. Given the difficulties of reconstructing something as relatively simple as a 3,000-year-old vase, can an archaeologist reconstruct a 30,000-year-old mind? Steven Mithen does not merely claim that this is possible. He does it.

In fact he goes even further back. In the course of explaining what produced the first stabs at art and religion, roughly 30 millennia…

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