Thinking Big

Thinking Big

How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind

  1. Clive Gamble
  2. John Gowlett
  • ISBN 9780500051801
  • 23.40 x 15.60 cm
  • Hardback
  • 224pp
  • With 57 illustrations
  • First published 2014

From Stone Age networks to Digital Age networking, this remarkable book shows we still inhabit social worlds that originated deep in our evolutionary past.

‘'Thinking Big' is destined to become a classic’’ – Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California
‘You will not read a more important book this year. It could make us a little wiser about ourselves’– Minerva
‘A delightful compendium of history, theory and fascinating experiments that will keep you engaged throughout’ – BBC Focus
'Thinking Big' is like the Big Bang: it probably isn’t the total answer, but there is no doubt that it answers a large number of observable phenomena, and it will serve as the dominant model for debating and refining our ideas about the origins and evolution of human cognition for decades to come’ – Society of Antiquaries Newsletter


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• When and how did the brains of our hominin ancestors become human minds?
• When and why did our capacity for language, art, music and dance evolve?

This pathbreaking and provocative book proposes that it was the need for early humans to live in ever-larger social groups over greater distances – the ability to ‘think big’ – that drove the enlargement of the human brain and the development of the human mind. This ‘social brain hypothesis’, put forward by evolutionary psychologists such as Robin Dunbar, can be tested against archaeological and fossil evidence.

The conclusions here – the fruits of over seven years of research – build on the insight that modern humans live in effective social groups of about 150 (so-called ‘Dunbar’s number’), some three times the size of those of apes and our early ancestors.

We live in a world dominated by social networking. Yet our virtual contact lists, whether on Facebook or Twitter, are on average no bigger than Dunbar’s number.

The three authors are co-directors of the research project ‘Lucy to Language – the Archaeology of the Social Brain’.

Robin Dunbar is head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group at the University of Oxford. He has published numerous books including Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language and formulated ‘Dunbar’s number’, which suggests humans are limited to stable social groups of around 150 people.
Clive Gamble is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. His work involves the study of our earliest ancestors and in particular the timing of global colonization. His publications include Archaeology: The Basics.
John Gowlett is Professor of Archaeology at Liverpool University. He specializes in evolutionary archaeology and anthropology, particularly tracing the preconditions and origins of human conceptualizing abilities. His publications include Ascent to Civilization.


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Also of interest
The Complete World of Human Evolution
The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies
Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods
The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art
The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story