The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body

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Harvard University Press, 2006 - Music - 374 pages
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The propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful, and neglected feature of humankind: this is where Steven Mithen began, drawing together strands from archaeology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience--and, of course, musicology--to explain why we are so compelled to make and hear music. But music could not be explained without addressing language, and could not be accounted for without understanding the evolution of the human body and mind. Thus Mithen arrived at the wildly ambitious project that unfolds in this book: an exploration of music as a fundamental aspect of the human condition, encoded into the human genome during the evolutionary history of our species.

Music is the language of emotion, common wisdom tells us. In The Singing Neanderthals, Mithen introduces us to the science that might support such popular notions. With equal parts scientific rigor and charm, he marshals current evidence about social organization, tool and weapon technologies, hunting and scavenging strategies, habits and brain capacity of all our hominid ancestors, from australopithecines to Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals to Homo sapiens--and comes up with a scenario for a shared musical and linguistic heritage. Along the way he weaves a tapestry of cognitive and expressive worlds--alive with vocalized sound, communal mimicry, sexual display, and rhythmic movement--of various species.

The result is a fascinating work--and a succinct riposte to those, like Steven Pinker, who have dismissed music as a functionless evolutionary byproduct.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - vguy - LibraryThing

Wonderful synthesis of prehistory, archaeological detail, neuroscience, psychology, communication, the whole shebang, all with a light touch and flashes of humour. Neatly skirts the "pop science ... Read full review

The singing neanderthals: the origins of music, language, mind, and body

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Mithen (The Prehistory of Mind; After the Ice) draws on archaeological record and current research on neurology and genetics to explain how and why humans think, talk and make music the way they do ... Read full review


The mystery of music The need for an evolutionary history of music
More than cheesecake? The similarities and differences between music and language
Music without language The brain aphasia and musical savants
Language without music Acquired and congenital amusia
The modularity of music and language Music processing within the brain
Talking and singing to baby Brain maturation language learning and perfect pitch
Music hath charms and can heal Music emotion medicine and intelligence
Grunts barks and gestures Communication by monkeys and apes
Singing for sex Is music a product of sexual selection?
The demands of parenthood Human life history and emotional development
Making music together The significance of cooperation and social bonding
Neanderthals in love Hmmmmm communication by Homo neanderthalensis
The origin of language The origin of Homo sapiens and the segmentation of Hmmmmm
A mystery explained but not diminished Modern human dispersal communicating with the gods and the remnants of Hmmmmm

Songs on the savannah The origin of Hmmmm communication
Getting into rhythm The evolution of bipedalism and dance
Imitating nature Communication about the natural world
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About the author (2006)

Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Pro Vice Chancellor at theUniversity of Reading.

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