- Hardcover: 374 pages
- Publisher: Orion Publishing Group; 1st edition (December 31, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0297643177
- ISBN-13: 978-0297643173
- Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 48 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,078,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body Hardcover – December 31, 2005
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
'offers a new perspective on the development of the modern mind.' HISTORY TODAY (May 2005) 'a detailed erudite exploration of the psychology and neurobiology of music, and the relationship between music and language...a genuine tour de force - unquestionably Mithen's best book to date.' -- Robin Dunbar BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGY (July/August 2005) 'grand in its scope and bold in conception...[with] profound conclusions.' -- Adrian Woolfson SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (10.7.05) 'Mithen's rich, dispassionate study of the origins of music, language and mime goes back to music-making among primates as the basis for understanding what role music might play in the human mind, primative and modern, healthy and damaged.' -- Norman Lebrecht EVENING STANDARD (18.7.05) 'This is a long-overdue book, which approaches human evolution from an intriguing as well as entertaining angle.' -- R.I.M. Dunbar TLS (29.7.05) 'Mithen argues in this book on "the origins of music, language, mind and body", musical qualities have been fundamental not only to courtship but also to the sense of togetherness that enables a bunch of clever, edgy primates to make the most of their talents.' -- Marek Kohn THE INDEPENDENT (29.7.05) 'a joy, packed with the latest research and intriguing new suggestions and ideas.' -- Richard Wentk FOCUS (September 2005) 'This is an absorbing and thought provoling work.' WESTERN DAILY PRESS (16.7.05) 'an absorbing page-turner of a book that makes an interesting case for new thinking of the origins of language and brings the hitherto neglected consideration of the evolution of music into the spotlight..fascinating and well researched.' -- Ian Simmons FORTEAN TIMES (September 2005) 'Mithen knows a great deal and he writes well.' LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (6.10.05) '...the book is extremely well written, and Mithen's clear and infectious enthusiasm make it a good introduction for non-specialists interested in the topic. I can recommend it to anyone interested in the biology and evolution of music or language - and particularly to readers interested in Darwin's idea that music constitutes an ancient and important form of human communication, intertwined with, but independent from, language.' NATURE (November 2005) 'This is a stimulating book with a wealth of ideas.' -- Richard Collins IRISH EXAMINER (29.11.05)
About the Author
Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and head of the School of Human and environmental Sciences at Reading University. Author of numerous books and articles, he has also consulted and appeared on TV and radio programmes about prehistory around the world. He has directed fieldwork in Western Scotland and is currently co-directing excavations in Wadi Faynan, southern Jordan.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
I spend a lot of my free time actively listening to music. I have a large vinyl record and CD collection acquired since my childhood and I take pride in keeping it well maintain. I only watch an average of 10-12 hour of television per month. So alternatively I listen to music, all kinds of music. I also love to read a lot of non-fiction and have over the past year become interested in paleo-anthropology and our human and societal evolution. While searching "neanderthal" on Amazon I came across this book and obviously I found the title appealing. Wow, this book was incredible! It covers human development from our ancient hominid ancestors and proposes a theory of how they communicated along with the evolution of music and language. I found it extremely interesting. It was also one of the most "fun" reads I've ever experienced. I'll never look at human behavior and communication the same. I can see so much more meaning in various human activities which I previously took for granted and I see the shadows of our ancient ancestors everywhere. Thank you Steven Mithen.
Much is speculation and at times one has the impression that the author sees his own speculation as not being all that speculative (e.g. even his main argument that Neanderthals are music-using but not language-using animals is, I believe, still open to debate - as is his statement that music emerged after language evolved). Furthermore some of his assumed truths (such as genetic proof that there was no interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans) appear to me to be more a matter of belief than fact.
In all as other reviewers have indicated and in detail described, a work worth reading and well-referenced.
One of the main topics I took form the book was author's way of discussing Chomsky's generative grammar. For longer time already I was suspicious about Chomsky's universal rules distributed by genetics and this book gave me arguments against it.
I disaggreed sometimes but still the book provoked my own thinking. I had started to read it because I wanted to know something about origins of art within humankind development but it gave me much more.
The book is written in very readable manner and the author shows respect to all whom he criticizes.
Last not least - I like the book title very much. Could you imagine a Neanderthal standing at the top of a hill singing Song of Joy?
Perhaps because I have followed and found very logical the arguments of the Evolutionary Psychologists, who see the mind as a collection of evolved adaptations to a series of specific fitness problems, I found Mithen's thesis very intuitive and appealing - even though it inevitably involves a great deal of speculation and extrapolation from evidence which can only be described as circumstantial (what the late S.J. Gould unkindly referred to as "Just So" stories).
Because of my enthusiasm for "Prehistory", I eagerly awaited subsequent books from Mithen. His second book "After the Ice - a Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC" was a huge disappointment; suffice it to say, that this was one of the few books I have started, and failed to read through to the end. The present book - although not in any way as groundbreaking or as stimulating as "Prehistory" - is a worthwhile read.
In fact it is a very "worthy" book; the central argument is that, as man's early ancestors evolved into fully bipedal hominids, they developed a means of communication, which was not language, which Mithen refers to as "Hmmmmm" - Holistic (consisting of whole sounds not parseable into words and syntax), Manipulative (designed to achieve ends, rather than describe), Multi-Modal (sound and body movement), Musical and Mimetic (using mimicry and immitation). The two two main supporting strands for this thesis involve, on the one hand consideration of the neurological and behavioral aspects of music and language, and on the other, hypotheses based on what is known about the lifestyles and selection pressures on early humans at different stages of evolution.
In the early chapters, Mithen's review of the similarities and differences between music and language, leads to the conclusion that they both evolved from some kind of primitive proto-language-music combination. He then reveals some fascinating aspects about what can only be described as the "competition" between linguistic and musical abilities for brain space. For example, that people with either congenital or acquired neural speech disorders often have enhanced musical abilities e.g perfect pitch - "musical savants". Or, that most infants possess perfect pitch (like many people suffering from autism). It appears that most babies are born with perfect pitch, which is gradually replaced by a bias toward relative pitch. Language acquisition involves the "unlearning" of perfect pitch (which is disadvantageous, because it prevents "generalization" - understanding that songs sung in different keys, or words spoken at different fundamental frequencies are the same.)
The second half of the book descibes what is known about the lifestyles of various early humans - homo ergaster, homo heidelbergiensis, and the neanderthals of the title - . Mithen's objective is to demonstrate that, at each of these stages, those individuals best able to communicate with their fellows, be trusted by them and gain their cooperation would have been the fittest (in darwinian terms). There would therefore have been a strong selective pressure for developing effective communication, and Mithen's argument is that this would have led to the progressive elaboration of communication into his "Hmmmm" - but not to language as we know it. Arguments involving many, many occurrences of words like "might have" and "we can imagine that" (which later morph into less speculative "did" and "were") are inevitable, given the paucity of hard evidence. They require the reader to very comprehensively "suspend disbelief" until the end, in order to see whether the whole edifice stands up or not.
Where Mithen is able to provide evidence or deductive argument from evidence, he does so. He also very conscientiously presents and evaluates evidence and counter-arguments that might contradict his thesis. Personally, I found the argument that, even the neanderthals - perhaps the closest and most recent relatives of modern humans - lacked language, quite convincing. However, Mithen's conclusion from this - that music played a major role in their lives (to the extent of having "performance spaces" in their caves) - left me unconvinced.