Ancient humans creating art

Cultural and technological boom 50,000 years ago linked with less testosterone

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Archaeological findings around the world have revealed a cultural and technological boom around 50,000 years ago in which making art and advanced tools became widespread. A new study appearing in the journal  Current Anthropology  has found that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming.

"The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament," said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University.

The study, which is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, makes the argument that human society advanced when people started being nicer to each other, which entails having a little less testosterone in action.

Cieri compared the brow ridge, facial shape and interior volume of 13 modern human skulls older than 80,000 years, 41 skulls from 10,000 to 38,000 years ago, and a global sample of 1,367 20th century skulls from 30 different ethnic populations.

The trend that emerged was toward a reduction in the brow ridge and a shortening of the upper face, traits which generally reflect a reduction in the action of testosterone. What they can't tell from the bones is whether these humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone.

Ancient human skulls

Left: ancient human skull with more pronounced brow ridge. Right: modern human skull

There are a lot of theories about why, after 150,000 years of existence, humans suddenly leapt forward in technology. Around 50,000 years ago, there is widespread evidence of producing bone and antler tools, heat-treated and flaked flint, projectile weapons, grindstones, fishing and birding equipment and a command of fire. Was this driven by a brain mutation, cooked foods, the advent of language or just population density?

The Duke University study argues that living together and cooperating put a premium on agreeableness and lowered aggression and that, in turn, led to changed faces and more cultural exchange.

"If prehistoric people began living closer together and passing down new technologies, they'd have to be tolerant of each other," Cieri said. "The key to our success is the ability to cooperate and get along and learn from one another."

Source: The above article is based on: "Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces: Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone”, provided by Science Daily .

Featured image: Ancient humans started created art at least 50,000 years ago. Image source .

By April Holloway


Justbod's picture

Interesting article and theory.

I don't suppose the behaviour and interior experience of an ancient human being is something we will ever be able to fully know. Even studies of the interior experience and motivations of ourselves today is a tricky subject - prone to projection, trends and subjectivity.
Interesting idea though!
Thanks for the article.

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature:




My understanding is that less testosterone makes people (of both sexes) more irritable and more violent.

The growth of arts and technology may be apparent with "widespread evidence" but that doesn't mean those arts were just not evident before that. Perhaps the making of art is what altered the cranial form? What of the secondary sexual characterisic choices that people made?

A not very well supported speculation. Sounds like feminist psuedo-science to me.

If the "less testosterone is best" theory were true, Then men would not have been the driving factor in the growth of technology, but women would be. To this day, such is not the case.

It seems people are mostly using sexist bias to say that testosterone lowered making it possible for people to cooperate when maybe they stared cooperating and then testosterone lowered since they had freed themselves somewhat from the elements.

There's also interesting new research that shows testosterone plays a role in perceptions of fairness and justice.

My guess is that lower testosterone led to somewhat lower sex drive that predisposed men to be more apt to settle with one woman and the start of patriarchal marriage enabled the birth of civilization.

angieblackmon's picture

haha i feel like they got not only nicer to each other, but prettier..! lol.

love, light and blessings


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