Les humains ont-ils inventé la modernité ?

Les vestiges fossilisés et les données génétiques suggèrent que les humains modernes viennent d'Afrique, et au cours de la dernière décennie, les anthropologues, les archéologues, les linguistes et autres savants ont eu tendance à assimiler l'origine biologique de notre espèce à l'origine de l'intelligence moderne. L'idée est relativement simple. Le processus qui a engendré notre espèce en Afrique lui a accordé de nombreux avantages (langage syntactique, connaissance avancée, pensée symbolique) qui ont favorisé sa dissémination dans le monde entier et ont déterminé son ultime réussite évolutionniste.

Si, toutefois, ces avantages étaient considérables et essentiellement déterminés par un changement biologique, nous devrions les voir se refléter dans la culture matérielle produite par ces premières populations anatomiquement modernes. Des technologies complexes, des tendances régionales au niveau du style et de la décoration des outils, l'utilisation de pigments, la représentation abstraite et figurative, les inhumations, les tombes et les ornements personnels figurent parmi les créations durables les plus courantes qui attestent de la nature symbolique complexe des cultures humaines ethnographiquement rapportées.

Nous devrions plus spécifiquement trouver de telles preuves archéologiques sur des sites en Afrique datant de 200 000 à 100 000 années auparavant. Mais nous voyons plutôt une émergence progressive d'innovations comportementales tant sur le territoire africain qu'au-delà de ses limites entre 300 000 et 20 000 années auparavant. De plus, les populations anatomiquement modernes partageaient plusieurs de ces innovations avec les néandertaliens, considérés par de nombreux anthropologues et généticiens comme une espèce différente, ou un type humain intrinsèquement incapable d'atteindre notre niveau cognitif.

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