The Early Origin and Late Origin hypotheses assume, respectively, one evolutionary event (origin of the capacity) or two events (origin of the capacity and subsequent diffusion to other populations). Early Origin is supported by a multitude of archaeological finds demonstrating modern tool making during the African Middle Stone Age, at 300 ka.
We summarize below data bearing on these hypotheses.
Since cultural capacity is present in all human populations it thus follows that this capacity has to be older than the oldest split in the human lineage, unless substantial gene-flow has occurred, as discussed above.
If cultural capacity is at least 170 ka old, how do we explain the gap of more than 100,000 years before we find traces of art, agriculture, and of the dramatic demographic and cultural growth that is still ongoing?
We show that cultural capacity is older than the first split in the modern human lineage, and at least 170,000 years old, based on data on hyoid bone morphology, FOXP2 alleles, agreement between genetic and language trees, fire use, burials, and the early appearance of tools comparable to those of modern hunter-gatherers.We term the set of genetically based cognitive abilities that, collectively, make human culture possible “cultural capacity”.Here we integrate data from genetics, paleoanthropology, archaeology, and linguistics to date this capacity.Humans have genetically based unique abilities making complex culture possible; an assemblage of traits which we term “cultural capacity”.The age of this capacity has for long been subject to controversy.Figure 1B maps these findings onto a simplified hominid phylogeny, for which there is a broad consensus among anthropologists and evolutionary biologists.The conclusion that cultural capacity is at least 170 ka old rests essentially on two lines of evidence. 1B suggests that Neanderthals may have had cultural capacity comparable to H. Archaeologists agree that Neanderthal stone tools are of similar complexity to contemporary H. One could argue that it is difficult to date cultural capacity unless it is clear from archaeological observations of material culture that this capacity is present.We cannot exclude that Neanderthals had cultural capacity some 500,000 years ago.A capacity for complex culture, therefore, must have existed before complex culture itself. This seeming paradox is resolved by theoretical models suggesting that cultural evolution is exceedingly slow in its initial stages..First, the genetically based cultural capacity is present in all human populations today. And from a behaviour theoretical point of view; we do not know if a burial is a more cognitively demanding task than for example controlling fire for food production.If it appeared later than 170 ka it must have, subsequently, spread to all corners of the world, but we are not aware of any evidence for such a worldwide genetic sweep. Our solution to this problem was to include first appearances of traits (cultural and genetic) relevant to a unique human cultural capacity.