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The propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful, and neglected feature of humankind: this is where Steven Mithen began, drawing together strands from archaeology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience--and, of course, musicology--to explain why we are so compelled to make and hear music. But music could not be explained without addressing language, and cou The propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful, and neglected feature of humankind: this is where Steven Mithen began, drawing together strands from archaeology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience--and, of course, musicology--to explain why we are so compelled to make and hear music. But music could not be explained without addressing language, and could not be accounted for without understanding the evolution of the human body and mind. Thus Mithen arrived at the wildly ambitious project that unfolds in this book: an exploration of music as a fundamental aspect of the human condition, encoded into the human genome during the evolutionary history of our species. Music is the language of emotion, common wisdom tells us. In The Singing Neanderthals, Mithen introduces us to the science that might support such popular notions. With equal parts scientific rigor and charm, he marshals current evidence about social organization, tool and weapon technologies, hunting and scavenging strategies, habits and brain capacity of all our hominid ancestors, from australopithecines to Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals to Homo sapiens--and comes up with a scenario for a shared musical and linguistic heritage. Along the way he weaves a tapestry of cognitive and expressive worlds--alive with vocalized sound, communal mimicry, sexual display, and rhythmic movement--of various species. The result is a fascinating work--and a succinct riposte to those, like Steven Pinker, who have dismissed music as a functionless evolutionary byproduct. (20060227)


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The propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful, and neglected feature of humankind: this is where Steven Mithen began, drawing together strands from archaeology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience--and, of course, musicology--to explain why we are so compelled to make and hear music. But music could not be explained without addressing language, and cou The propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful, and neglected feature of humankind: this is where Steven Mithen began, drawing together strands from archaeology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience--and, of course, musicology--to explain why we are so compelled to make and hear music. But music could not be explained without addressing language, and could not be accounted for without understanding the evolution of the human body and mind. Thus Mithen arrived at the wildly ambitious project that unfolds in this book: an exploration of music as a fundamental aspect of the human condition, encoded into the human genome during the evolutionary history of our species. Music is the language of emotion, common wisdom tells us. In The Singing Neanderthals, Mithen introduces us to the science that might support such popular notions. With equal parts scientific rigor and charm, he marshals current evidence about social organization, tool and weapon technologies, hunting and scavenging strategies, habits and brain capacity of all our hominid ancestors, from australopithecines to Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals to Homo sapiens--and comes up with a scenario for a shared musical and linguistic heritage. Along the way he weaves a tapestry of cognitive and expressive worlds--alive with vocalized sound, communal mimicry, sexual display, and rhythmic movement--of various species. The result is a fascinating work--and a succinct riposte to those, like Steven Pinker, who have dismissed music as a functionless evolutionary byproduct. (20060227)

30 review for The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body

  1. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    Despite the title, Mithen is not arguing that bands of Neanderthal were roaming the tundras of Northern Europe 100,000 years ago breaking out in Gilbert & Sullivan tunes. Rather, he's taking up the incredibly complex relationship between our physical evolution and our capacities for language and music. And, here, "music" is not just the structured compositions of a Bach or (even) a Brittney Spears but is, instead, the propensity among primates for rhythmic movement and pitch- and tone-based voca Despite the title, Mithen is not arguing that bands of Neanderthal were roaming the tundras of Northern Europe 100,000 years ago breaking out in Gilbert & Sullivan tunes. Rather, he's taking up the incredibly complex relationship between our physical evolution and our capacities for language and music. And, here, "music" is not just the structured compositions of a Bach or (even) a Brittney Spears but is, instead, the propensity among primates for rhythmic movement and pitch- and tone-based vocalizations. I read After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC a couple of years ago. There Mithen took the reader on a tour of archaeological sites around the world, exploring how early humans coped with the vicious climate swings that accompanied the end of the last ice age and propelled the advent of agriculture and the world as we know it. He's an engaging author who can weave a multitude of threads together into a coherent argument. In the present volume, he masterfully accomplishes the feat of bringing together the evidence of physical evolution with brain studies and archaeology to show how they all worked together to, first, evolve a capacity for music (as defined above) and then the related capacity for language. The first part of the book is taken up with research among modern humans and some of our primate cousins like the vervets that establishes the existence of separate but overlapping faculties for music and language. While necessary for his arguments in part two, I found this part the least interesting section (though only in a relative sense). Of far greater interest to me was part two, where Mithen begins to look at the evolutionary and archaeological evidence for music and language in the hominids (ranging as far back as 2 million years). The following is a gross oversimplification of Mithen's argument; at best, a poor reproduction of his "tapestry." The hapless reader is strongly encouraged to go directly to the source. Our earliest hominid ancestors, the australopithecines, probably had a limited capacity for tone- and pitch-based vocalizations, a faint echo of which is found in the "infant-directed speech" (IDS) of human mothers. A communication that is nonlinguistic (even though it may utilize words) and depends on rhythm, tone & pitch to convey meaning. As australopithecines gave way to the more human-like homo strains like habilis and ergaster, the range and complexity of this nonlinguistic communication grew. Mithen calls this prelinguistic speech "Hmmmmm," which stands for holistic, manipulative, multi-modal, musical, mimetic. The most important component of Hmmmmm is the "holistic" part. Mithen argues that prelanguage hominids communicated in whole, inalterable phrases composed not just of vocalizations but also gestures. For example, there may have been a meaning unit for "hunt," and then others for the various animals suitable for hunting. Or there might have been a phrase that meant "sabertooth tiger attacks camp," similar to the vervet monkey's unique call and posture signaling a snake is in the neighborhood. In the most advanced hominids (the Neanderthal, particularly), there may even have been a rudimentary grammar; i.e., you could say/gesture "hunt" + "moose" + "you" + "me" but you couldn't say/gesture "you" + "me" + "moose" + "hunt." Approximately 170,000 years ago, however, a random mutation in some group of archaic, prelanguage homo sapiens gave them a capacity for what Mithen calls "cognitive fluidity" - the ability to combine one's natural intelligence with one's social and/or technical intelligences. For the first time (as far as we know), someone associated the phrase "gluk" with "deer" and "mama" with "mother"; words and language were born (and Adam tasted the forbidden fruit, more of that later). Language was a far more powerful tool than Hmmmmm for conveying information and manipulating the world, and it opened the possibility for rapid, technical advance and cultural change. Mithen points out that the spoken/gestural components of Hmmmmm were fiercely resistant to change over time because you couldn't explain to your neighbors what a new phrase meant (at least not easily). That, the physical isolation of hominid groups and (perhaps) the sheer physical inability of the brain to fully process compositional language, retarded technical and cultural innovation for hundreds of thousands of years. The Neanderthals, for all their otherwise human-like characteristics, used essentially the same tool kit from the time they appeared in the fossil record (450-500,000 ya) to their extinction c. 40,000 ya. The only evidence for innovation comes late and only in relation to proximity to modern human sites - Neanderthal was intelligent enough to imitate but not innovate. One of the most interesting images Mithen invokes is that the first "mutants" with the language gene probably talked to no one but themselves. Because they could talk, however, these original soliloquists were more successful than their mute neighbors and passed on their genes. Eventually, a critical threshold was passed and all successful human groups carried it out of Africa, overwhelming and driving to extinction all of our cousin hominids. Hmmmmm communications remained a part of our repertoire but the purely musical and manipulative aspects predominated. What resulted was the modern human's capacity for language and music - related but distinct forms of communication. And I still haven't discussed the physical changes that promoted first Hmmmmm and then language such as bipedalism. I will leave those aspects of Mithen's argument alone and again invite the reader to check out the book. Not directly related to Mithen's argument but of personal interest is the mental state that Mithen's Hmmmmm speakers must have enjoyed. It sounds remarkably like the state mystics of every religion describe when they meditate - timeless and wordless. It reminds me that (for Christians, anyway) human history didn't start until God uttered the Word, or the Taoist notion of the The Ten Thousand Things of human perception. Language ushered in self-awareness and moral quandaries, and it appears that we've always hankered for a return to the innocent, unknowing state of our prelanguage ancestors.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mikael Lind

    Mithen is addressing several issues in this book, but his main thesis is that homo sapiens and our nearest ancestors have an innate preference for singing and music making. Mithen presents many compelling arguments for this hypothesis, and especially one argument, concerning how a mother would keep a newborn child calm with song, is an interesting one. Basically, ape babies can stay close to the mother all the time by holding on to her hair. A human ape has lost so much hair, so there's nothing Mithen is addressing several issues in this book, but his main thesis is that homo sapiens and our nearest ancestors have an innate preference for singing and music making. Mithen presents many compelling arguments for this hypothesis, and especially one argument, concerning how a mother would keep a newborn child calm with song, is an interesting one. Basically, ape babies can stay close to the mother all the time by holding on to her hair. A human ape has lost so much hair, so there's nothing for the baby to hold on to. Therefore, if the mother wants to do work, it has to put the baby away, and a different way to soothe the baby which is now a couple of meters away would be with early forms of nursery rhymes. There are a lot of well-founded arguments like these in Mithen's book. For me, he sometimes goes a bit too far when trying to remake the scenes of Neanderthal gatherings by the hearth and so on. He might be right in his descriptions, who knows really, but they went on for a bit too long. The book is at its strongest when discussing recent research in anthropology, music, linguistics and psychology, and tying this up with a theory of human evolution. It certainly made me more interested in this interdisciplinary field, especially since I am both a linguist and a musician/composer.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ann Keller

    Just the title of this book sets the mind spinning with possibilities. Mr. Mithen provides the reader with a unique perspective, suggesting that early man may very well have learned to "sing" before he learned to speak or walk. Singing requires a certain knowledge of rhythm and cadence, as does walking. Man's brain had to be ready to process singing. When early man began to hum songs, conveying emotions and messages through his voice, he was also probably ready for bipedalism, too. Sexual attract Just the title of this book sets the mind spinning with possibilities. Mr. Mithen provides the reader with a unique perspective, suggesting that early man may very well have learned to "sing" before he learned to speak or walk. Singing requires a certain knowledge of rhythm and cadence, as does walking. Man's brain had to be ready to process singing. When early man began to hum songs, conveying emotions and messages through his voice, he was also probably ready for bipedalism, too. Sexual attraction may also have been given a hand through the use of voice and song. Music may not only have entertained early man, but it may also have been featured as a vital part in religious ceremonies, too. Excellent reference.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lee Barry

    A must-read for musicians. One of the best books I've read on the connection between music and language. "Ethnomusicologist John Blacking recognizes the very intimate link between music and body movement, so much so that he suggested that all music begins as a stirring of the body and that to feel with the body is probably as close as anyone can ever get to resonating with another person. So by getting into the body movement of the music, one can feel it very nearly as the composer felt it." A must-read for musicians. One of the best books I've read on the connection between music and language. "Ethnomusicologist John Blacking recognizes the very intimate link between music and body movement, so much so that he suggested that all music begins as a stirring of the body and that to feel with the body is probably as close as anyone can ever get to resonating with another person. So by getting into the body movement of the music, one can feel it very nearly as the composer felt it."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tes

    The title is misleading. It should have been the Hmmming Neanderthals. (Hmmming is the author's mnemonic for humming). I learned a great deal about early humans that I really hadn't thought about. The author's theory is that music & language occupy different parts of the brain. (Which is why some stroke patients can remember the music but have no concept of the words or know words but absolutely no concept of music -- not just forget but no concept). Music came first and was present in Neandertha The title is misleading. It should have been the Hmmming Neanderthals. (Hmmming is the author's mnemonic for humming). I learned a great deal about early humans that I really hadn't thought about. The author's theory is that music & language occupy different parts of the brain. (Which is why some stroke patients can remember the music but have no concept of the words or know words but absolutely no concept of music -- not just forget but no concept). Music came first and was present in Neanderthals and indeed was a shared trait in the human species. While this book was very hard to read (both the printing & the subject matter),the subject was so interesting to me I wouldn't give up.

  6. 5 out of 5

    KC

    some of Mithen's arguments rest on rather slender evidence, but his premise is nevertheless elegant and satisfying. unsurprisingly i took greatest exception to the chapter on music as product of sexual selection, since, like all straight anthropolodudes, Mithen gives short shrift to the characteristic primate enthusiasm for nonreproductive sex in all its varied forms and uses. some of Mithen's arguments rest on rather slender evidence, but his premise is nevertheless elegant and satisfying. unsurprisingly i took greatest exception to the chapter on music as product of sexual selection, since, like all straight anthropolodudes, Mithen gives short shrift to the characteristic primate enthusiasm for nonreproductive sex in all its varied forms and uses.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bron

    I read Steven Mithen's Prehistory of the Mind years ago and I felt very excited about the conclusions he drew about the effect language had on the development of human intelligence and awareness. In a way, this book is a continuation of his earlier work as he examines to what extent music and language are related, and which came first. Professor Mithen draws on evidence from a lot o f specialisms including - studies of living primates, anthropological studies of modern hunter\gatherer societies, I read Steven Mithen's Prehistory of the Mind years ago and I felt very excited about the conclusions he drew about the effect language had on the development of human intelligence and awareness. In a way, this book is a continuation of his earlier work as he examines to what extent music and language are related, and which came first. Professor Mithen draws on evidence from a lot o f specialisms including - studies of living primates, anthropological studies of modern hunter\gatherer societies, infant development, neurological studies including brain imaging, and evidence from the fossil record. He builds this into a compelling argument about how important musical elements are in the development of language, but at some point, he believes about 40,000-50,000 years ago, language became sufficiently developed to take over as the prime means of conveying information, leaving music to develop as the means for expressing emotion and building a sense of community. Although I loved this book, I must add that the kindle version is so badly in need of proof reading that it prompted me to do something I've never done before, I emailed the author to let him know. The mistakes are so odd that they feel less lije bad writing than a glitch in a computer programme (and I know from his earlier book, he does write well). Errors include random punctuation marks and capital letters, and odd word substitutions such as herd instead of hero. I got a nice reply to my email saying he will contact the publishers. I do hope it can be put right as this work deserves a much better presentation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    3.5/4 - This book was a bit of a bear for me to get through, but I have to give credit to the amount of multi-disciplinary research, thought, and creativity that went into this publication. As a musician, I thoroughly appreciated part I of this book, which focuses on the present interaction between language and music. Part two dug into the history and evolution of homo sapiens and Neanderthals, allocating fair amounts of time to the archaeological finds relating to said history and the interpret 3.5/4 - This book was a bit of a bear for me to get through, but I have to give credit to the amount of multi-disciplinary research, thought, and creativity that went into this publication. As a musician, I thoroughly appreciated part I of this book, which focuses on the present interaction between language and music. Part two dug into the history and evolution of homo sapiens and Neanderthals, allocating fair amounts of time to the archaeological finds relating to said history and the interpretation that Mithen proposes for the relationship between the archaeological finds and our current propensity for music and language as a species. That said, the last 200 pages-ish (i.e. part II) were much less captivating for me. The amount of time spent on hypothesis and details of things such as using flint to make pear or ovate shaped axes was taxing, but that could be due to the fact that I was expecting more of a musical emphasis. All in all it was well done, if not a tiresome read. I'd only suggest this book to people who enjoy archaeology/evolutionary history/ or have a deep desire to know how evolution may have influenced our current musical environment.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nic

    A good read for those interested in the origins of human language and music. Now, 11 years old, some of the evidence has been overtaken by events in field research it nonetheless proposes provocative ideas. Specifically, that music (prosody in speech) and holistic phrases rather than individual words evolved first in our distant Homo ancestors. As the world and our groups became more complex this communication also changed to allow more use of discrete words rather than phrases. Very interesting A good read for those interested in the origins of human language and music. Now, 11 years old, some of the evidence has been overtaken by events in field research it nonetheless proposes provocative ideas. Specifically, that music (prosody in speech) and holistic phrases rather than individual words evolved first in our distant Homo ancestors. As the world and our groups became more complex this communication also changed to allow more use of discrete words rather than phrases. Very interesting ideas. I do think his analysis of the Neanderthals is not so strong. Given some dated ideas about Neanderthals group size and absence of art, the author proposes that their language abilities were limited - in spite of their large brain size. With that caveat, I enjoyed the read. The author writes well and entertainingly. Recommended for the serious student of our origins.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex Delogu

    A fascinating tour through the deep musical past of people. The first part of the book examines some of the neurological aspects of the link between language and music, moving into developmental ideas like Infant Directed Speech, and into evolutionary advantages of music making. This is all very much opposed to Steven Pinker's comments that music is simply auditory cheesecake, quite devoid of any evolutionary purpose. The core of the book lies in the second half, though it is quite interpretative A fascinating tour through the deep musical past of people. The first part of the book examines some of the neurological aspects of the link between language and music, moving into developmental ideas like Infant Directed Speech, and into evolutionary advantages of music making. This is all very much opposed to Steven Pinker's comments that music is simply auditory cheesecake, quite devoid of any evolutionary purpose. The core of the book lies in the second half, though it is quite interpretative, as Mithen looks at the fossil records and how they point to our distant ancestors as music makers. He offers a fascinating look at how language may have arisen from musical holistic communication. A must for anyone interested in music and the origins of language.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Othman

    It is often suggested that language and music are more alike than different in many respects, such as their internal structures and processes they undergo. However, accounts for the evolution of each do not seem to converge; did language evolve as a spandrel of the evolution of music, or vice versa, or did each evolve independently of the other? The answer to these questions touches upon various interdisciplinary topics. Reading this book taught me a lot about not only language and music but als It is often suggested that language and music are more alike than different in many respects, such as their internal structures and processes they undergo. However, accounts for the evolution of each do not seem to converge; did language evolve as a spandrel of the evolution of music, or vice versa, or did each evolve independently of the other? The answer to these questions touches upon various interdisciplinary topics. Reading this book taught me a lot about not only language and music but also about archaeology, paleontology, biology, and neuroscience. I recommend reading this book to those that are particularly interested in the evolution of language and music.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yajnaseni Roy

    If popular archaeology is a thing then this is it. Entertaining. But often prone to sweeping statements and beliefs which lack credible authoritative sources. Quite a difficult topic to write on nevertheless.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    I really struggled to get through this book. The concept is fascinating, but I found Mithen’s writing dry and repetitive and the evidence he presents tenuous. An interesting theory, but not as engaging as I’d hoped.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Federico

    A remarkable book. I rate it 5 stars due to its complexity that never becomes complicated: like a gigantic puzzle (and the commitment it needs), every chapter fell in its proper place and left me with a pleasantly enlightened ending. Highly suitable for "the bigger picture" fanatics like me. A remarkable book. I rate it 5 stars due to its complexity that never becomes complicated: like a gigantic puzzle (and the commitment it needs), every chapter fell in its proper place and left me with a pleasantly enlightened ending. Highly suitable for "the bigger picture" fanatics like me.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Neesam

    A fascinating and detailed read describing our various anscestors and close cousins the great apes and how our language and music have evolved to allow us to communicate in the manner we do today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    There's a lot of material in it, but much of it seems to pad out a sensible and straightforward path with a few key, well-researched points. The payoff is diluted somewhat by that padding. There's a lot of material in it, but much of it seems to pad out a sensible and straightforward path with a few key, well-researched points. The payoff is diluted somewhat by that padding.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Benitez Bryn2

    the book is really amazing

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

    I REALLY wanted to like this, but the technical jargon and report of study after study made it feel the mental equivalent of reading/wading through quicksand!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Austin Hood

    Not too much novel information, pretty much just validates conjectures I had already heard

  20. 4 out of 5

    βαβυλών

    The last bit about the role of music in religion is a bit flimsy and sparse, but otherwise a very solid book

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eashwari

    Really insightful book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Clivemichael

    Fascinating conjectures rooted in deep research and entertainingly presented.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    We take the long route in discovering Mithen's reasons for proposing that the all homo genii have employed their love of melody, rhythm and tone in laying the foundations for a componential grammar. Along the way we discover how hundreds of years of archaeological discoveries have helped uncover the behaviours and habits of early hominids including early homo sapiens and neanderthals. To date, using the best that current archaeological and paleoanthropological evidence and theories can offer, an We take the long route in discovering Mithen's reasons for proposing that the all homo genii have employed their love of melody, rhythm and tone in laying the foundations for a componential grammar. Along the way we discover how hundreds of years of archaeological discoveries have helped uncover the behaviours and habits of early hominids including early homo sapiens and neanderthals. To date, using the best that current archaeological and paleoanthropological evidence and theories can offer, and combining this with studies of various types of modern-day abnormalities, Mithen supports Alison Wray's proposal for a holophrastic precursor to modern language. Mithen then takes the argument one step further by suggesting that hominid's protolanguage was HMMMMM: Holistic Manipulative Multi-Modal Musical and Mimetic: Holistic because any sequence of sounds, including onomatopoeia and non-arbitrary mimicking, would have a single meaning; Manipulative because its main purpose was social cooperation and so would be primarily aimed at making other people do things (for you); Multi-Modal because unlike the narrow focus of many linguists today, Mithen sees this form of communication as involving the whole body and not just being limited to the noises we make with our mouths; Musical because the tone, rhythm and melody would be variants in the holistic phrase; and Mimetic because any attempt at vocal representations would probably be as close to the original as possible, using mimicry and copying where possible. It is not difficult to find all of these elements in modern human communication if you want to just look for it, and the arguments Mithen produces from an archaeological perspective can also make sense from a linguistic perspective, if only you know which linguists to take heed of. I was a little worried that Mithen's only reference to linguists other than Wray were all from formal linguistics and so it is not surprising that he can disagree with them so vehemently, even naming Chomsky, Pinker and Tallerman along the way. I learned of this book from its review article in Cambridge Archaeological Journal (16/1) and the various responses that produced. I was not surprised to see that practically everyone was willing to entertain the ideas presented here - except for the formal linguist Tallerman who vehemently opposed everything that Mithen suggests without offering any real evidence to counter his arguments, except for the same tired old circular, unverifiable, unfalsifiable arguments that formal linguistics loves to present at any opportunity as truisms that are truisms only because they repeat them so often. "The Singing Neanderthals" is a fascinating read, a powerfully simple argument, and packed full of facts and anecdotes from a range of diverse disciplines.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Anyone interested in music or language should read The Singing Neanderthals, which I recommend unreservedly. I found the argument for some proto-human holistic language persuasive, and I thought Professor Mithen's connection to music and the affective element of music really creative. While I was reading, I began to see patterns of supportive evidence outside of the text, in addition to the archaeological and neurological evidence mounted in the text, so I found myself participating in the argum Anyone interested in music or language should read The Singing Neanderthals, which I recommend unreservedly. I found the argument for some proto-human holistic language persuasive, and I thought Professor Mithen's connection to music and the affective element of music really creative. While I was reading, I began to see patterns of supportive evidence outside of the text, in addition to the archaeological and neurological evidence mounted in the text, so I found myself participating in the argument supra-textually, which was totally cool. But I would say, even if one doesn't find the argument persuasive or charming beyond a reasonable doubt, or have any particular interest in prehistory, I think one still might find the book worthwhile because of its separate chapters on music, on infant-directed-speech, on the wiring of the brain

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gyrus

    Mithen rallies the very latest research in archaeology (much of his evidence having arisen just a year or two before publication), plus insights from a broad survey of relevant disciplines, taking in developmental psychology, neuropathology, ethological studies of primate behaviour, and naturally a liberal dash of musicology and linguistics. His ability to sift through vast amounts of scientific data, to weigh findings in different arenas against each other, and synthesize conclusions using both Mithen rallies the very latest research in archaeology (much of his evidence having arisen just a year or two before publication), plus insights from a broad survey of relevant disciplines, taking in developmental psychology, neuropathology, ethological studies of primate behaviour, and naturally a liberal dash of musicology and linguistics. His ability to sift through vast amounts of scientific data, to weigh findings in different arenas against each other, and synthesize conclusions using both common sense and methodical rigour, is hugely impressive. As is, equally importantly, his knack for expressing this process vividly, never coming across as condescending when trying to make something clear, and never getting carried away with his profession’s jargon... More: http://dreamflesh.com/reviews/singing...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Frank Jude

    This is one of those books that are so outside the bounds of any particular genre it's hard to place. It's a totally engrossing book of (pre)history, anthropology, consciousness study (by way of psychology and neuroscience), musicology, and biology! Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Head of the School of Human and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading. He is also a music lover, and with this book has dived deep into the relationship between biology, language and mu This is one of those books that are so outside the bounds of any particular genre it's hard to place. It's a totally engrossing book of (pre)history, anthropology, consciousness study (by way of psychology and neuroscience), musicology, and biology! Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Head of the School of Human and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading. He is also a music lover, and with this book has dived deep into the relationship between biology, language and music. Mithen in not without passion and humor, making this well-argued, deeply detailed book an absolute joy to read. Like a good novel, at times I found myself deliberately slowing down my reading in order to savor the piling on of ideas, speculation and factoids. It has also re-inspired me to just 'make music,' and not worry about the 'art' of it!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jacqui

    I have avoided this book in the past because my personal interest extends to an earlier time than Neanderthals, but I shouldn't have. The title is misleading in that he extends to man's earliest Homo habilis days, not those relatively-modern Homo neanderthalensis times. He explains the importance of music to man's ability to use symbols, to express ideas without the vast lexicon we currently possess. He shares his definition of music as 'human sound communication outside the scope of language' ( I have avoided this book in the past because my personal interest extends to an earlier time than Neanderthals, but I shouldn't have. The title is misleading in that he extends to man's earliest Homo habilis days, not those relatively-modern Homo neanderthalensis times. He explains the importance of music to man's ability to use symbols, to express ideas without the vast lexicon we currently possess. He shares his definition of music as 'human sound communication outside the scope of language' (borrowed from Bruno Nettl) and describes a believable scenario for the co-evolution of music and language. All in all, a well thought-out book with lots of factually-based opinions.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Strange

    "Now this was a very interesting read. It certainly was mostly a well researched book, but I did notice a few gaps in terms of Scholarship (which could be accounted for in a revised edition) and at the price of making this an accessible/marketable read, there might not have been enough scientific debate (says the geek...) However it definitely helped convince me of the evolutionary importance of music to later hominids. Aside from parroting the words of others Mithen also enriches scholarly unde "Now this was a very interesting read. It certainly was mostly a well researched book, but I did notice a few gaps in terms of Scholarship (which could be accounted for in a revised edition) and at the price of making this an accessible/marketable read, there might not have been enough scientific debate (says the geek...) However it definitely helped convince me of the evolutionary importance of music to later hominids. Aside from parroting the words of others Mithen also enriches scholarly understanding of music's evolutionary role when he talks about the role of imitation in new environments."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    For anyone interested in evolutionary psychology (or biology for that matter) and/or music, this is the best book I've read on the source of human musicality. The book has hundreds of footnotes, an enormous bibliography, and his theory is nicely laid out. It is not too technical, and an easy read, but full of interesting ideas. Basically, the author contends that our musical nature came from a million years of a proto language he calls HMMMMM, which is a type of musical, wordless, and manipulati For anyone interested in evolutionary psychology (or biology for that matter) and/or music, this is the best book I've read on the source of human musicality. The book has hundreds of footnotes, an enormous bibliography, and his theory is nicely laid out. It is not too technical, and an easy read, but full of interesting ideas. Basically, the author contends that our musical nature came from a million years of a proto language he calls HMMMMM, which is a type of musical, wordless, and manipulative communication system that developed separately from modern speech, and gave us the tools to emote when we hear great music.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elentarri

    "The Singing Neanderthals" is not so much about Neanderthals as it is an exploration of the development of speech and music, starting from our distant ancestors clambering around in the tree tops to modern humans. The book discusses which areas of the brain, as well as which anatomical bits and pieces, are responsible for the evolution of speech and music. Everything from modern people with brain injuries or genetic defects, to group social functions, to primate vocalization/socialization, to th "The Singing Neanderthals" is not so much about Neanderthals as it is an exploration of the development of speech and music, starting from our distant ancestors clambering around in the tree tops to modern humans. The book discusses which areas of the brain, as well as which anatomical bits and pieces, are responsible for the evolution of speech and music. Everything from modern people with brain injuries or genetic defects, to group social functions, to primate vocalization/socialization, to the study of ancient hominid fossils, is covered in this book. The book is fairly interesting, but some might find it overly technical and somewhat dry.

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