Language and technology are defining human characteristics, but how are they related to one another? We propose to explore possible functional, anatomical, and evolutionary connections between these fundamental human capacities through a novel integration of archaeology and neuroscience. More specifically, we hypothesize that language is a special case of a more general capacity for complex, hierarchically structured, goal oriented behavior also seen in technology. We will develop new methods for studying the structural complexity and neural processing of behavior sequences, allowing direct comparison of linguistic and technical tasks. To more directly address evolutionary questions, we will focus on the evolutionarily relevant, archaeologically visible behavior of stone tool-making. Subjects will be trained in Paleolithic tool-making techniques so as to allow in vivo application of neuroscience methods (fMRI, eye-tracking) to assess behavioral, cognitive and neuroanatomical overlap with language. We will train 1 postdoctoral researcher,1 Masters intern, and 1 graduate student, publish 1 high-impact general science publication, 3 reports in top specialist journals, and 2 synthetic reviews, and present our research at international conferences. The project will test major evolutionary hypotheses of language and technology and promote integration between neuroscience and anthropology by developing new and broadly applicable methods for studying complex, naturalistic behavior. We are suggesting that heirachical structure is a unifying principle in human cognition, crossing behavioral domains that are traditionally conceived as distinct. Results have the potential to powerfully impact popular and scholarly perception of the nature and origins of human intellect and creativity.
NOTE: Bracketed numbers  throughout the application refer to the supplementary references document.