Before Farming

The role of working memory in the evolution of managed foraging

Before Farming (2003), 2003, (2), 1–16.

Abstract

This article proposes that a relatively simple evolutionary development in human cognition enabled the development of managed foraging systems and, ultimately, agriculture. This development, an increase in the capacity of working memory, resulted in an enhancement of such specific cognitive abilities as response inhibition, response preparation, resistance to interference, and the ability to integrate action across space and time. All are required for modern managed foraging systems, including hunting and gathering and agriculture. Archaeological evidence provides strong evidence for managed foraging by the middle of the European Upper Palaeolithic and South African Later Stone Age, and independent evidence for enhanced working memory capacity slightly earlier. This fits the hypothesis that enhanced working memory capacity was a relatively recent development in human evolution, and one that enabled not just managed foraging, but perhaps modern culture itself.

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Wynn, Thomas

Coolidge, Frederick