•  347
    Beyond writing: The development of literacy in the Ancient Near East
    Cambridge Archaeological Journal 2 (26). 2016.
    Previous discussions of the origins of writing in the Ancient Near East have not incorporated the neuroscience of literacy, which suggests that when southern Mesopotamians wrote marks on clay in the late-fourth millennium, they inadvertently reorganized their neural activity, a factor in manipulating the writing system to reflect language, yielding literacy through a combination of neurofunctional change and increased script fidelity to language. Such a development appears to take place only wit…Read more
  •  247
    Materiality and human cognition
    with Thomas Wynn
    Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2 (26). 2019.
    In this paper, we examine the role of materiality in human cognition. We address issues such as the ways in which brain functions may change in response to interactions with material forms, the attributes of material forms that may cause change in brain functions, and the spans of time required for brain functions to reorganize when interacting with material forms. We then contrast thinking through materiality with thinking about it. We discuss these in terms of their evolutionary significance a…Read more
  •  222
    Thinking Materially: Cognition as Extended and Enacted
    Journal of Cognition and Culture 17 (3-4): 354-373. 2017.
    Human cognition is extended and enacted. Drawing the boundaries of cognition to include the resources and attributes of the body and materiality allows an examination of how these components interact with the brain as a system, especially over cultural and evolutionary spans of time. Literacy and numeracy provide examples of multigenerational, incremental change in both psychological functioning and material forms. Though we think materiality, its central role in human cognition is often unappre…Read more
  •  177
    The characterization of early token-based accounting using a concrete concept of number, later numerical notations an abstract one, has become well entrenched in the literature. After reviewing its history and assumptions, this article challenges the abstract–concrete distinction, presenting an alternative view of change in Ancient Near Eastern number concepts, wherein numbers are abstract from their inception and materially bound when most elaborated. The alternative draws on the chronological …Read more
  •  164
    The cultural challenge in mathematical cognition
    with Andrea Bender, Dirk Schlimm, Stephen Crisomalis, Fiona M. Jordan, and Geoffrey B. Saxe
    Journal of Numerical Cognition 2 (4). 2018.
    In their recent paper on “Challenges in mathematical cognition”, Alcock and colleagues (Alcock et al. [2016]. Challenges in mathematical cognition: A collaboratively-derived research agenda. Journal of Numerical Cognition, 2, 20-41) defined a research agenda through 26 specific research questions. An important dimension of mathematical cognition almost completely absent from their discussion is the cultural constitution of mathematical cognition. Spanning work from a broad range of disciplines –…Read more
  •  155
    Visuospatial Integration: Paleoanthropological and Archaeological Perspectives
    with Emiliano Bruner, Enza Spinapolice, and Ariane Burke
    In Laura Desirèe Di Paolo, Fabio Di Vincenzo & Francesca De Petrillo (eds.), Evolution of Primate Social Cognition, Springer Verlag. pp. 299-326. 2018.
    The visuospatial system integrates inner and outer functional processes, organizing spatial, temporal, and social interactions between the brain, body, and environment. These processes involve sensorimotor networks like the eye–hand circuit, which is especially important to primates, given their reliance on vision and touch as primary sensory modalities and the use of the hands in social and environmental interactions. At the same time, visuospatial cognition is intimately connected with memory,…Read more
  •  147
    Constructing a concept of number
    Journal of Numerical Cognition 2 (4). 2018.
    Numbers are concepts whose content, structure, and organization are influenced by the material forms used to represent and manipulate them. Indeed, as argued here, it is the inclusion of multiple forms (distributed objects, fingers, single- and two-dimensional forms like pebbles and abaci, and written notations) that is the mechanism of numerical elaboration. Further, variety in employed forms explains at least part of the synchronic and diachronic variability that exists between and within cult…Read more
  •  137
    Squeezing minds from stones: Cognitive archaeology and the evolution of the human mind (edited book)
    with Frederick Lawrence Coolidge
    Oxford University Press. 2019.
    Cognitive archaeology is a relatively new interdisciplinary science that uses cognitive and psychological models to explain archaeological artifacts like stone tools, figurines, and art. Edited by cognitive archaeologist Karenleigh A. Overmann and psychologist Frederick L. Coolidge, Squeezing Minds From Stones is a collection of essays, from both early pioneers and 'up and coming' newcomers in the field, that addresses a wide variety of cognitive archaeology topics, including the value of experi…Read more
  •  115
    What are numbers, and where do they come from? A novel answer to these timeless questions is proposed by cognitive archaeologist Karenleigh A. Overmann, based on her groundbreaking study of material devices used for counting in the Ancient Near East—fingers, tallies, tokens, and numerical notations—as interpreted through the latest neuropsychological insights into human numeracy and literacy. The result, a unique synthesis of interdisciplinary data, outlines how number concepts would have been r…Read more
  •  102
    Book review: Cultural Development of Mathematical Ideas, written by Geoffrey B. Saxe (review)
    Journal of Cognition and Culture 14 (3-4): 331-333. 2014.
    A review of Geoffrey B. Saxe, Cultural Development of Mathematical Ideas. Saxe offers a comprehensive treatment of social and linguistic change in the number systems used for economic exchange in the Oksapmin community of Papua New Guinea. By taking the cognition-is-social approach, Saxe positions himself within emerging perspectives that view cognition as enacted, situated, and extended. The approach is somewhat risky in that sociality surely does not exhaust cognition. Brains, bodies, and mate…Read more
  •  96
    Creativity, cognition and material culture: An introduction
    with Lambros Malafouris and Chris Gosden
    Pragmatics and Cognition 22 (1): 1-4. 2014.
    Introduction to the special issue in Pragmatics & Cognition focused on creativity, cognition, and material culture. With contributions from Maurice Bloch, Chris Gosden, Tim Ingold, John Kirsh, Carl Knappett & Sander van der Leeuw, Lambros Malafouris, Frédéric Vallée-Tourangeau, Kevin Warwick, and Tom Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge.
  •  90
    The prehistory of number concept
    with Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34 (3): 142-144. 2011.
    Carey leaves unaddressed an important evolutionary puzzle: In the absence of a numeral list, how could a concept of natural number ever have arisen in the first place? Here we suggest that the initial development of natural number must have bootstrapped on a material culture scaffold of some sort, and illustrate how this might have occurred using strings of beads.
  •  78
    The material difference in human cognition
    Adaptive Behavior 29 (2): 123-136. 2021.
    Humans leverage material forms for unique cognitive purposes: We recruit and incorporate them into our cognitive system, exploit them to accumulate and distribute cognitive effort, and use them to recreate phenotypic change in new individuals and generations. These purposes are exemplified by writing, a relatively recent tool that has become highly adept at eliciting specific psychological and behavioral responses in its users, capability it achieved by changing in ways that facilitated, accumul…Read more
  •  78
    4E cognition in the Lower Palaeolithic: An introduction
    with Thomas Wynn and Lambros Malafouris
    Adaptive Behavior 99-106. forthcoming.
    This essay introduces a special issue focused on 4E cognition (cognition as embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) in the Lower Palaeolithic. In it, we review the typological and representational cognitive approaches that have dominated the past fifty years of paleoanthropology. These have assumed that all representations and computations take place only inside the head, which implies that the archaeological record can only be an “external” product or the behavioral trace of “internal” repr…Read more
  •  71
    A cognitive archaeology of writing: Concepts, models, goals
    In Philip Boyes, Philippa Steele & Natalia Elvira Astoreca (eds.), The social and cultural contexts of historic writing practices, Oxbow. pp. 55-72. 2021.
    Complex systems like literacy and numeracy emerge through multigenerational interactions of brains, behaviors, and material forms. In such systems, material forms – writing for language and notations for numbers – become increasingly refined to elicit specific behavioral and psychological responses in newly indoctrinated individuals. These material forms, however, differ fundamentally in things like semiotic function: language signifies, while numbers instantiate. This makes writing for language…Read more
  •  58
    Concepts and how they get that way
    Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 18 (1): 153-168. 2019.
    Drawing on the material culture of the Ancient Near East as interpreted through Material Engagement Theory, the journey of how material number becomes a conceptual number is traced to address questions of how a particular material form might generate a concept and how concepts might ultimately encompass multiple material forms so that they include but are irreducible to all of them together. Material forms incorporated into the cognitive system affect the content and structure of concepts throug…Read more
  •  49
    On Tools Making Minds: an Archaeological Perspective on Human Cognitive Evolution
    with Thomas Wynn
    Journal of Cognition and Culture 19 (1-2): 39-58. 2019.
    Using a model of cognition as extended and enactive, we examine the role of materiality in making minds as exemplified by lithics and writing, forms associated with conceptual thought and meta-awareness of conceptual domains. We address ways in which brain functions may change in response to interactions with material forms, the attributes of material forms that may cause such change, and the spans of time required for neurofunctional reorganization. We also offer three hypotheses for investigat…Read more
  •  43
    The idea the New Zealand Māori once counted by elevens has been viewed as a cultural misunderstanding originating with a mid-nineteenth-century dictionary of their language. Yet this “remarkable singularity” had an earlier, Continental origin, the details of which have been lost over a century of transmission in the literature. The affair is traced to a pair of scientific explorers, René-Primevère Lesson and Jules Poret de Blosseville, as reconstructed through their publications on the 1822–1825…Read more
  •  20
    Finger-counting and numerical structure
    Frontiers in Psychology 2021 (12): 723492. 2021.
    Number systems differ cross-culturally in characteristics like how high counting extends and which number is used as a productive base. Some of this variability can be linked to the way the hand is used in counting. The linkage shows that devices like the hand used as external representations of number have the potential to influence numerical structure and organization, as well as aspects of numerical language. These matters suggest that cross-cultural variability may be, at least in part, a ma…Read more
  • Common creativity
    In Linden Ball & Frédéric Vallée-Tourangeau (eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Creative Cognition, . forthcoming.
    Creativity is often conceived in terms of insight, innovation, and invention realized through technical mastery and skill. Challenging this individualistic model are “inventions” like writing, something that surely gave no clue to the form it would ultimately take—script—or the ways in which it would reorganize behaviors and brains in the cognitive state known as literacy. Here writing is analyzed as a tool used collectively and collaboratively. Collective, collaborative use enabled the tool to …Read more