Intelligence of fossil man

Glenn Morton (
Mon, 01 Sep 1997 22:42:02 -0500

Everybody on this list knows that I have been arguing for the past several
years that apologetics needs to come to grips with the activities and
humanity of the various fossil men. I just read an interesting article which
I would recommed to anyone interested in these issues. The article is Thomas
Wynn, "The Intelligence of Later Acheulean Hominids", Man 14:371-391.

In the article, Wynn uses Piaget's views of intelligence to evaluate the
mental abilities of the makers of tools at Isimila, Tanzania which dates
from around 300,000 years ago. I will quote from the article at length
because of the importance of the issue both to theology and to my view of
how christianity should deal with the flood and fossil man.

For those unfamiliar with Piaget's views (I am a novice) he defines the
development of modern human intelligence in terms of thinking type. I will
be loose and simple in my definitions for the purpose of this note.
Pre-operational thinking is what children do before they are fully
conscious. Operational thinking is what we adults do. There are various
types of operational thinking. Wynn deduces four main types of operational
thinking required for the manufacture of the Acheulean bifacial handaxe,
which was manufactured from 1.5 million-250 thousand years ago or so. These are:

1 Whole-part relations mathematically defined as A+A'=B, B+B'=C

Some tools require small retouches or modifications of small parts of the
tool in order for it to match the desired shape. This is evidence of
understanding the difference between the whole and it's parts.

2 Qualitative displacement spatial relationship mathematically defined as A<B<C
reversable to C>B>A
Each flaking operation to manufacture a straight edge requires the
concept of a relation between the size of the flake and the desired shape.

3 Spatio-temporal substitution
"This operation requires an understanding of the potential
interchangeability of relations that results in an equivalence.
An example of such interchangeability is the ability to recognise
familiar landmarks that are approached from a new
direction."~Thomas Wynn, "The Intelligence of Later Acheulean
Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p. 380

Mathematically this is the relation: A1+A1'=A2+A2'=B

Example symmetrical bifacial handaxes. Each surface must mirror
the other and must be flaked from different directions to the desired surface.

"This competence in regular cross-section also requires an
awareness of addition and subtraction of projective viewpoints.
Like topological whole-part relations, this is an infra-logical
equivalent of operational classification. 'In the case of
operations such as joining neighbouring parts of an object
(A+A'=B, B+B'=C, etc.) the reverse projective operation involves
suppressing one element (B-A'=A) which can no longer be seen
through being hidden by another object acting as a
screen."~Thomas Wynn, "The Intelligence of Later Acheulean
Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p. 382

4 Symmetry. this kind of spatial organisation requires the
ability to reverse an equivalent relation. In logico-
mathematical thought this simply means that if A=B then B=A.
(this is not as rudimentary as it may at first seem. If a young
boy who has one brother is aked if his brother has a brother, he
may well answer 'no' because he 'knows' there is only one brother
in the family.')"~Thomas Wynn, "The Intelligence of Later
Acheulean Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p. 382

Implications of this type of mental activity.

Wynn writes:

"This analysis of the geometry of Isimila artefacts
demonstrates that the later Acheulean hominids employed in their
stone knapping the infra-logical operations of whole-part
relations, qualitative displacement, spatio-temporal substitution
and symmetry. These complex geometric relationships cannot have
been accidentally imposed. It is therefore necessary to conclude
that operational intelligence is the minimal competence
attributable to these hominids. Dose this mean that the thinking
of these hominids was equivalent to that of modern humans? In
terms of organisational ability I believe the answer to this
question must be yes.
Many will argue at this point that there is an obvious
difference between the competence necessary to conceive and
manufacture a symmetrical biface and that necessary to conceive,
for example, [square root] -1. I would counter that the
difference is neither great nor necessarily relevant to a
comparison of prehistoric and modern humans. Piaget does
distinguish between two substages of operational thought and it
is the difference between these two substages that constitutes
the difference between handaxes and [square root] -1. The first
substage is that of concrete operations and the second that of
formal or propositional operations. Concrete operations are used
to organise tangible entities, e.g., tools, structures, people,
etc., while propositional operations are used to organise ideas
and hypothetical entities, e.g., non-commutative rings,
infinities, etc. Because artefacts are tangible entities they
require at most only concrete operations. Could it not then be
argued that the Isimila hominids were incapable of propositional
operations and were therefore not as intelligent as modern
humans? I believe not.
"Because propositional operations are not employed to
organise tangible things they could never be recognised with
certainty in prehistoric data, even recent prehistoric data. We
will never know whether or not any prehistoric people used
propositional operations. More importantly, however, cross-
cultural data suggest that use of propositional operations, in a
strictly Piagetian sense, is far from universal among modern
humans. The basic Piagetian sequence of ontogenetic stages
appears to be universal. Operational intelligence sensu lato is
characteristic of adults but propositional operations are often
absent. Indeed, they seem to be a particular kind of operational
thinking found among educated adults. This appears to be not a
difference in competence (both concrete and propositional
operations are reversible, conserving, etc.) but a difference in
realms of application. Therefore,, even if the Isimila hominids
did not employ propositional operations (and we can never know)
this could not be interpreted as a difference in competence.
"There is, of course, a vast difference between the
technological achievements of modern humans and later Acheulean
hominids. Prehistorians have often attributed modern
technological sophistication to an intellectual capacity achieved
late in the Upper Pleistocene. As a recent text states: there
was '...a change in adaptive strategies and organisational
abilities at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. This
transition signifies the rapidly increasing ability of human
beings to recognize the environmental potentials that existed
[and] to communicate these potentials to others...' (Redman
1978:51-52) (my emphasis). redman is clearly citing increased
intelligence as a factor in cultural evolution as late as the
Upper Palaeolithic. Such reasoning is based either on the
assumption that modern intelligence must correlate directly with
the appearance of morphologically modern humans or on the
assumption that it correlates with the appearance of blade
"To assume the former is to assume that intelligence was a
factor of importance in later human biological evolution. I
believe this assumption is at least open to question. While
Neanderthal brains differed in shape from those of modern humans
the significance of this difference is far from clear.
Anatomists are reluctant to infer behaviour from endocasts.
'More, however, must be learned about the functional significance
of observed changes in brain size and shape before reliable
inferneces can be made from endocasts about changing behavioural
abilities...Given the nature of hominid endocasts, I believe that
the archaeological record will ultimately allow more inferences
about behavior than will endocasts' (Radinsky 1976:384)
"The assumption that blade technology (or parietal art)
requires more intelligence than Levallois flakes or handaxes is
also open to question. To my knowledge no one has ever
rigorously demonstrated that the spatial concepts necessary for
blades are more complex than those for earlier tools. I maintain
that the spatial concepts necessary to manufacture blades are no
more complex than those necessary to manufacture handaxes--indeed
they are perhaps less so. Blades require the whole-part
operation to produce and monitor the core but do not require the
spatio-temporal substitution and symmetry operations of
symmetrical handaxes.
"The analysis of Isimila artefacts indicates that
operational concepts of space were employed by later Acheulean
hominids. The organisational abilities referred to by Redman were
apparently achieved long before the Upper Palaeolithic. In place
of the assumption that intelligence played a part in much of
later cultural evolution I offer the alternative hypothesis that
cultural developments since the later Acheulean represent just
that--cultural developments--and not an increase in
intelligence."~Thomas Wynn, "The Intelligence of Later Acheulean
Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p. 383-385

I might note here that, if my memory serves me correctly, the square root of
-1 was not understood by anyone on earth untill the 1500s when an Italian
mathematician conceived of it. So whether or not men 300,000 years ago could
or couldn't understand i is irrelevant to the humanity of these men.

In addition to this, the men of 300,000 years ago may have understood
causality which has implications for religion. Wynn writes:

"Since the later Acheulean hominids employed reversible
operations, the obvious implication is that their understanding
of causality was potentially no different from our own. This
implication has interesting ramifications. If the hominids did
understand causality they would probably have recognised causes
for most phenomena. If no cause were discernible it is
reasonable that one would have been created. It is only when
operational thought, through causality, supplies gaps in
understanding that such causal mechanisms as magic and cosmogony
(and ultimately science) become necessary. This does not mean
that later Acheulean hominids did, in fact, employ magic and
cration of myts, but that their operational thought was capable
of producing the voids that these fill."~Thomas Wynn, "The
Intelligence of Later Acheulean Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p.

It is interesting that the earliest carved figure of a human is the Golan
Venus which dates from 330,000 years ago. It is the earliest possible venus
figurine in a tradition that continues into the Upper Paleolithic and even
into historic times. Often these figures were used religiously.

Wynn further suggests that the hominids had to have an understanding of
Euclidean space. He writes:

"The finer bifaces suggest that the equivalent of three-
dimensional reference frames must have been employed. without a
conception of a space of defined positions, it would have been
impossible to conceive an object which has bilateral symmetry
across three planes. Flake removals were made not in relation to
nearby flake removals but according to a set of positions which
defined the symmetries. This frame was internal to the artefact
but was nevertheless a Euclidean space."~Thomas Wynn, "The
Intelligence of Later Acheulean Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p.

In children developing Wynn relates,

"Children do not attend to symmetry until they have achieved an
understanding of Euclidean relations."~Thomas Wynn, "The
Intelligence of Later Acheulean Hominids," Man, 14:371-391, p.

The hand axe was a beautifully symmetric object.

For Christian apologists to constantly denigrate the intellectual and
conceptual abilities of fossil men actually ignores much evidence which
attests of their humanity.


Foundation, Fall and Flood