Mankind’s progress through cultural change

“ … the first clear evidence of representational painting was not found in Europe but in a cave in Namibia, in southern Africa, dated by its Middle Age context to between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago, thus preceding European painting …” So says Stephen Oppenheimer in ‘Out of Eden: The peopling of the world.’ He makes a clear distinction about symbolic presentation such as scratches, cross-hatching, and notching of pieces of stone or mineral pigment blocks. He also states: “Arguably the earliest evidence of such deliberate patterning of stone comes from sandstone caves in India … between 150,000 and 300,000 years ago.”

Oppenheimer draws upon McBrearty and Brooks (Journal of Human Evolution 39) thus: “McBrearty and Brooks’ composite picture of the first ‘Anatomically Modern’ Africans shows that soon after their first appearance, by around 140,000 years ago, half of the fourteen important clues to cognitive skills and behaviour, which underpins those that eventually took us to the Moon, were already present.”

He then says “With such a perspective of cumulative increments in culture over the past 300,000 years, the concept of a sudden modern ‘European Human Revolution’ 40,000 years ago pops like a bubble.” This appears to be a rebuttal of a claim that Europeans evolved separately from everyone else; part of a multiregional hypothesis of human origins (“A parochial obsession of Europeans with their past … “ – Oppenheimer).

Relying on the genetic clock rather than on radiocarbon dating (with the latter’s 40,000 year ceiling), Oppenheimer states: “ … human (or other primate) culture is first invented, then learnt and added to from generation to generation. Each advance or skill does not come out of a new gene.

Rather new behaviours come first, and the genetic modifications that best exploit these new behaviours come afterwards. In other words, the change of culture precedes the change of body … “

But, what if the new behaviours were influenced by genetic mutation caused by a cosmic catastrophe?