This research uses Peircean Semiotics to model the evolution of symbolic behavior in the human lineage and the potential material correlates of this evolutionary process in the archaeological record. The semiotic model states the capacity for symbolic behavior developed in two distinct stages. Emergent capacities are characterized by the sporadic use of non-symbolic and symbolic material culture that affects information exchange between individuals. Symbolic exchange will be rare. Mobilized capacities are defined by the constant use of non-symbolic and symbolic objects that affect both interpersonal and group-level information exchange. Symbolic behavior will be obligatory and widespread. The model was tested against the published archaeological record dating from ~200,000 years ago to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary in three sub-regions of Africa and Eurasia. A number of Exploratory and Confirmatory Data Analysis techniques were used to identify patterning in artifacts through time consistent with model predictions. The results indicate Emergent symboling capacities were expressed as early as ~100,000 years ago in Southern Africa and the Levant. However, capacities do not appear fully Mobilized in these regions until ~17,000 years ago. Emergent symboling is not evident in the European record until ~42,000 years ago, but develops rapidly. The results also indicate both Anatomically Modern Humans and Neanderthals had the capacity for symbolic behavior, but expressed those capacities differently. Moreover, interactions between the two populations did not select for symbolic expression, nor did periodic aggregation within groups. The analysis ultimately situates the capacity for symbolic behavior in increased engagement with materiality and the ability to recognize material objects can be made meaningful– an ability that must have been shared with Anatomically Modern Humans’ and Neanderthals’ most recent common ancestor. Consequently, the results have significant implications for notions of ‘modernity’ and human uniqueness that drive human origins research. This work pioneers deductive approaches to cognitive evolution, and both strengths and weaknesses are discussed. In offering notable results and best practices, it effectively operationalizes the semiotic model as a viable analytical method for human origins research.
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