The Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Art as Adaptation

The Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Art as Adaptation

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The Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Art as Adaptation by Kathryn Coe

In our society it has long been believed that art serves very little social purpose. Evolutionary anthropologists, however, are examining a potential role for art in human evolution. Kathryn Coe looks to the visual arts of traditional societies for clues. Because they are passed down from previous generations, traditional art forms such as body decoration, funeral ornaments, and ancestral paintings offer ways to promote social relationships among kin and codescendants of a common ancestor. Mothers used art forms to anchor themselves and their kin to the father and his kin, and to promote the survival and reproductive success of kin and descendants. Individuals who abided by this strategy, accompanied by its strict codes of cooperation, left more descendants than did individuals who did not. Over time, given this reproductive success, large numbers of individuals would be identified as codescendants of a common ancestor and would cooperate as if they were close kin. These cooperative codescendants were more likely to survive and leave descendants. With each new generation these clans propagated not only their genes but also their behavioral strategy, the replication or presence of “art.” The book concludes by examining the changing characteristics of visual art—including a higher value on creativity, competition, and cost—when traditional constraints on social behavior disappear.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813531328
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Publication date: 01/15/2003
Series: Rutgers Series on Human Evolution
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 152.40(w) x 234.95(h) x (d)

About the Author

Kathryn Coe is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1The Ancestress Hypothesis and Visual Art: An Overview1
Chapter 2Visual Art Techniques and Veneration of the Dead21
Chapter 3Changing Styles of Visual Art47
Chapter 4The Definition of Visual Art: The First Step of the Scientific Method67
Chapter 5Underpinnings of the Ancestress Hypothesis78
Chapter 6Males as Ancestors96
Chapter 7Visual Art Theory: Ancestress Strategy or Sexual Strategy?108
Chapter 8Testing the Ancestress Hypothesis123
Chapter 9Modern Darwinian Theory144
Chapter 10Reconciliation: The Problem of Definitions152

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