¿Inventaron los seres humanos la modernidad?

Los restos fósiles y los datos genéticos indican que los seres humanos modernos proceden de África y en el último decenio antropólogos, arqueólogos, lingüistas y otros científicos han solido identificar el origen biológico de nuestra especie con el origen de la inteligencia moderna. Esa idea es muy sencilla. El proceso que produjo nuestra especie en África le brindó varias ventajas -lenguaje sintáctico, conocimiento avanzado, pensamiento simbólico- que favoreció su dispersión por todo el mundo y determinó en última instancia su éxito evolutivo.

Sin embargo, si bien esas ventajas fueron espectaculares y determinadas por el cambio biológico, es de esperar que las encontremos reflejadas en la cultura material producida por aquellas poblaciones tempranas y anatómicamente modernas. Entre las más comunes creaciones duraderas que atestiguan la compleja naturaleza simbólica de las culturas humanas etnográficamente documentadas figuran tecnologías complejas, tendencias regionales en el estilo y la decoración de herramientas, utilización de pigmentos, representación abstracta y figurativa, enterramientos, artículos depositados en las tumbas y adornos personales.

Concretamente, deberíamos encontrar esa documentación arqueológica en yacimientos de África correspondientes a períodos comprendidos entre 200.000 y 100.000 años atrás, pero lo que, en cambio, vemos es la aparición gradual de innovaciones de comportamiento dentro y fuera de África en períodos comprendidos entre 300.000 y 20.000 años atrás. Además, las poblaciones anatómicamente modernas comparten varias de esas innovaciones con los hombres de Neandertal, que muchos antropólogos y genetistas consideran una especie diferente o un tipo humano inherentemente incapacitado para alcanzar nuestro nivel cognoscitivo.

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