chapter  18
41 Pages

Cognition: thought, ideas, and belief

WithSteven Mithen, Nigel Spivey

Just as we wish to know how people lived in the past, we also wish to know what they thought, and how they thought. Indeed, it is difficult to address questions of subsistence, trade and social organization without some understanding of the manner in which people in the past viewed their world. While archaeologists have long asked such questions, the late 1980s saw a concerted move towards the development of a ‘cognitive archaeology’ (Renfrew 1982; Renfrew and Zubrow 1994). This cannot boast the theoretical and field studies which developed from the move towards a ‘social archaeology’ twenty years previously, but its consequences for the discipline are likely to be as profound. At present, however, cognitive archaeology is a rather disparate body of work, varying markedly in its content and approaches. This is understandable, since trying to infer the nature and contents of, for example, the minds of prehistoric people from the stone tools, broken bones and potsherds of the archaeological record is certainly a daunting, optimistic, and some might say foolhardy task. And even if such inference seems successful, what results might it yield when carried over into a literate era of history-when, arguably, a cognitive record has been in some way directly inscribed or ‘scripted’? Undaunted, this chapter sketches the nature of cognitive archaeology for two very different time periods, with very different databases: the Palaeolithic, and classical Greece.