The Birth of Our Modern Minds IELTS Reading General Training
Reading Passage 3
The Birth of Our Modern Minds
A. When did we begin to use symbols to communicate? Roger Highfield reports on a challenge to prevailing ideas. Anyone who doubts the importance of art need do no more than refer to the current account of human evolution, where the emergence of modern people is not so much marked by Stone Age technology as a creative explosion that rocked Europe 40,000 years ago.
Our ancestors began to adorn their bodies with beads and pendants, even tattoos; they painted representations of animals, people and magical hybrids on cave walls in Lascaux, France and Altamira in Spain. They sculpted voluptuous stone figures, such as the Venus of Willendorf. This cultural Big Bang, which coincided with the period when modern humans reached Europe after they set out, via the Near East, from Africa, marked a decisive point in our story when a man took a critical step beyond the limitations of his hairy ancestors and began to use symbols. The modern mind was born.
B. Or was it? Britain’s leading archaeologist questions the dogma that the modern human mind originated in Europe and, instead, argues that its birth was much more recent, around 10,000 years ago, and took place in the Middle East. Lord Renfrew, professor of archaeology at Cambridge University, is troubled by what he calls the ‘sapient behaviour paradox’: genetic findings, based on the diversity of modern humans, suggest that our big brains emerged 130,000 years ago when Homo sapiens evolved from Homo Erectus and were fully developed about 60,000 years ago.
But this hardware, though necessary, was not sufficient for modern behaviour, software (culture) is also required to run a mind and for this to be honed took tens of millennia. There is something unsatisfactory about the genetic argument that rests on the ‘potential’ for change emerging, he argues. Ultimately, little happened — or at least not for another 30,000 years.
C. Although there is no doubt that genes shaped the hardware of the modern brain, genetics does not tell the whole story. ‘It is doubtful whether molecular sequences will give us any clear insights,’ said Lord Renfrew, adding that the current account of our origins has also become sidetracked by placing too much emphasis on one cultural event.
Either side of the boundary between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, 40,000 years ago, people lived much the same way. To the casual observer, the archaeological record for Homo sapiens does not look much different from Homo Erectus’s or even our beetle-browed European cousins, the Neanderthals. ‘There are detailed changes in tools and so on but the only one that really strikes you is cave art.’
D. And this artistic revolution was patchy: the best examples are in Spain and France, in Britain, the oldest known cave art consists of 12.000 year-old engravings in Creswell Crags. Indeed, was there an artistic revolution 40,000 years ago at all? Two pieces of ochre engraved with geometrical patterns 70,000 years ago were recently found at Blombos Cave, 180 miles east of Cape Town, South Africa.
This means people were able to think abstractly and behave as modern humans much earlier than previously thought. Lord Renfrew argues that art, like genetics, does not tell the whole story of our origins. For him, the real revolution occurred 10,000 years ago with the first permanent lieges. That is when the effects of new software kicked in, allowing our ancestors to work together in a more settled way. That is when plants and animals were domesticated and agriculture born.
E. First, there were nests of skulls and unusual burial practices, cult centres and shrines. Then you have the first villages, the first towns, like Jericho in Jordan around 8000 BC) and Catalhoyuk in Turkey (est 6500 BC), then the spread of farming to Europe. Before long, you are accelerating towards the first cities in Mesopotamia, and then other civilisations in Mexico, China and beyond.’
F. Living in timber and mud-brick houses led to a very different engagement between our ancestors and the material world.’1 don’t think it was until settled village communities developed that you had the concept of property, or that “I own these things that have been handed down to me”.’ This, in turn, could have introduced the need for mathematics, to keep a tally of possessions, and written language to describe them. In the Near East, primitive counters date back to the early farming period and this could have marked the first stages of writing, said Lord Renfrew.
‘We have not solved anything about the origins of modern humans until we understand what happened 10,000 years ago,’ he said. He is excited by excavations now underway in Anatolia, a potential birthplace of the modern mind, in Catalhôyük. one of the earliest places where close-knit communities were born, and Gobekli Tepe, a shrine that predates village life. These spiritual sites may have seeded the first human settled communities by encouraging the domestication of plants and animals.
Answer the questions below using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.
27. According to the current view, what does NOT indicate the first appearance of the modern human.
28. What type of evidence does Lord Renfrew question in general?
29. What, apart from art, were the developments in the creation of 40,000 years ago?
30. What kind of cave art in Britain is referred to?
31. What TWO things does Lord Renfrew believe to have been established 10,000 years ago?
32. What TWO things did the notion of personal possessions lead to?
Classify the following statements as referring to the period
A. 10,000 years ago
B. 40,000 years ago
C. 60,000 years ago
D. 70,000 years ago
Write the correct letter A—D in boxes 33—40 on your answer sheet.
33. The brain was completely formed physically but was not capable of all the functions of the modern mind.
34. There was a major change in the attitude of humans to each other.
35. A huge amount of art in different forms began to appear.
36. Development of the human mind occurred at the same time as a migration.
37. Art from the period casts doubt on the conventional view of the development of the human mind.
38. Tire modern mind developed in a different location from the one normally assumed.
39. The only significant change in the development of man is shown in the art produced.
40. Further research into the period is essential for accurate conclusions to be drawn on human development.
The Birth of Our Modern Minds IELTS Reading Answers
27. STONE AGE TECHNOLOGY
31. PERMANENT VILLAGES; AGRICULTURE
32. MATHEMATICS; WRITTEN LANGUAGE