From ???@??? Tue May 27 15:50:41 1997
From: (Nold Egenter)
Subject: Re: Flintknapping and verbal communication

Jesse S. Cook III wrote:
> Unless we want to credit *Homo habilis* with language, we have to assume
> that they passed on tool-making skills from generation to generation for
> at least 500,000 years without language.

Mary Smallwood Churchill e.g. wrote:
> If you are fortunate enough to observe first-hand or even view a
> good film of chimps fishing for termites, you will hear the members
> present vocalizing to one another. We may not yet understand this
> language, however, it is none the less present.

In my oppinion this discussion - particularly of the latter type - is scientifically problematic because it retro-projects two extremely limited cultural concepts on the vital situation of pongid life: 1) tool-behavior and 2) verbal communication. These retroprojections cover up the factual phenomenology of pongid life and produce a kind of fuzzy-logics in discussion.


The concept 'tool behavior' works with the relation 'hand -> tool -> result' (of the tool-using-process). Evidently this way to see things is a retroprojection from prehistory and its earliest - in itself problematic - finds like 'pebble-tools' etc.

However, this view covers up another much more important 'industry' among pongids: NESTBUILDING BEHAVIOR. The Yerkes suggested it already in 1929 as the starting point of an evolutionary line which might compete with the 'tool-making behavior'. They for the first time scientifically termed nestbuilding as "constructivity" and theoretically placed it at the beginning of an evolutionary process. Their conclusion: "...nesting behaviour illustrates the appearance and phylogenetic development of dependence on self-adjustment to increasing dependence on manipulation or modification of environments as a method of behavioural adaptation." (Yerkes 1929:564)

Unfortunately post-Yerkesian primate research classified the nestbuilding behavior as part of social behavior and thus gravely neglected it as a full fledged subhuman industry. In contrast to this and closely related to the Yerkes (1929) our own approach (architectural anthropology) favours nestbuilding behavior of the higher apes as the basic primatological phenomenon for an evolution of 'constructivity', mainly for the following reasons:

1) In comparison with the above 'hand-tool-result' relation it shows a quite different but probably much more important relation: 'hand -> result'. In other words: THE HAND IS THE FIRST TOOL!

2) Nestbuilding is a VERY IMPORTANT aspect of pongid life: it guarantees safety during the dark nightly life of the pongids. During this dark half of their existence their vision is highly reduced (arboreal locomotion: stereoscopic view close to zero!). Thus the FUNCTIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF NESTBUILDING IS DIRECTLY AND ESSENTIALLY RELATED TO PONGID LIFE (which is not the case in regard to rather casual tool-using, like ant fishing or nut cracking etc.).

3) The nestbuilding behavior of the pongids is not only DAILY ROUTINE, it is also LEARNED BEHAVIOR (references: see our URL below).

4) Japanese primatologists (Kawai/Mizuhara 1959) have measured and mapped a nightly campsite of seven gorillas giving distances of nests and hights as well as characteristics of the occupying group. It shows essentially a nearly quadratic pentagon (ca. 100 m2) of five ground-nests with various occupants (leader,infant, female etc.) and with one female plus baby in the centre on a tree-nest (highest protection zone). The 'leader' seems to protect the access path (hypothesis). The whole arrangement can be taken as a 'TEMPORARY SETTLEMENT' or 'TEMPORARY DWELLING' with a definite spatial order that may reflect social and traditional categories.


In regard to nestconstruction, which is usually done in groups, very little vocal communication is reported. What is heard are sounds of constructive activities (breaking twigs, hammering with fistbacks). Evidently the complexity of this socio-spatial and elementary technological arrangement implies a metalinguistic (spatio-manipulatory, or OPERATIONAL) type of communication for which we might have some understanding: organizing the spatial layout in a group, localizing sounds of processes, feeling protected by a socio-spatial arrangement etc..

In short, I think the nightly nestcamps of the pongids introduce a highly complex phenomenon into the primatological discussion which allows to theorize rich metalinguistic (psychological?) types of communication. The conditions are objectively comparable with human conditions on basic terms like 'settlement' or 'dwelling' or 'habitat'. Consequently, in view of Jesse S. Cook's above statement it could be said: Assuming this operational, or 'spatio-behavioral' communication as a basic form of communication, verbal communication could have developed relatively late in cultural evolution.

Nold Egenter

Many other palaeanthropological problems can be discussed in view of the Yerkesian suggestion of 'constructivity', e.g. the development of bipedic posture, precision grip, increasing brain size (with increasing terrestrial locomotion material choices and the potential for constructive differenciations increase tremendously!)
-->More on nestbuilding behavior of the higher apes:
-->More on the whole 'soft prehistory' approach:

From ???@??? Tue Jun 17 17:13:01 1997
From: (Nold Egenter)

Matt Fraser wrote:

>Hello All,
>I would like to create a bibliography for Paleoanthropology, Physical
>Anthropology, Prehistoric Archaeology, and Human and Non-human Primate
>Evolution to be part of the PaleoAnthro Lists website. If you know of books
>that are included in these topics, please send the bibliographic info to
>me directly at <>.


See our "ethno-(pre-)historical approach anthropologically based on Pongid nestbuilding behavior and the Yerkes' suggestion to construct an evolution of 'constructivity' (The Higher Apes 1929).

Nold Egenter:
The present Relevance of the Primitive in
Architecture. Architectural Anthropology - Research Series vol. 1:
216 p. Illustr. Paperback. Three languages (English, German, French)
* (German: Die Aktualität des Primitiven in der Architektur)
* [Français: L'actualité du Primitif dans l 'Architecture]
ISBN: 3-905451-01-8 / Structura Mundi, Lausanne 1992
(CHF 40.- / 34.-US$ s'mail incl.)

For contents and cover-text see:

Best regards,

Nold Egenter

From ???@??? Fri Jun 13 19:28:03 1997
Date: Thu, 12 Jun 1997 12:42:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: Matt Fraser <>
To: Paleoanthropology List <>
Subject: PalAnt: PaleoAnthro Books

Sent by: Matt Fraser <>

Hello All,

I would like to create a bibliography for Paleoanthropology, Physical
Anthropology, Prehistoric Archaeology, and Human and Non-human Primate
Evolution to be part of the PaleoAnthro Lists website. If you know of books
that are included in these topics, please send the bibliographic info to
me directly at <>.

Also, any members out there that have written articles within these
subjects, please send me that information and I will publish those
references on another page.




Matt Fraser
Matt's Paleo Pages <>

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