How Compassion Made Us Human

by stephenpalmersf

How Compassion Made Us Human:
The Evolutionary Origins Of Tenderness, Trust & Morality by Penny Spikins

This is a terrific book – and one welcome in a field dominated both by men and by male versions of prehistory, which (as the author glumly notes) are usually violent and full of conflict.

That male version of prehistory though is not supported by evidence. In this remarkable book, Spikins – a highly experienced archaeologist and academic based in the north of England – makes the case for a different interpretation, both of the evidence and of supporting evidence, for instance ethnographic work done with modern-day hunter gatherer peoples. The book is also a really good read: well written, clear, taking the reader through the argument with skill and panache.

The chapters cover the basis of archaeology, how men have interpreted evidence in the past (not least Raymond Dart and his ludicrous “killer ape” hypothesis), re-interpreting archaeological evidence with common sense, zoological and anthropological evidence, and then a brilliant section on how small objects represent big emotions. It’s this chapter in particular that reveals the scope and depth of the author’s vision. Subsequent chapters cover the dark side of humanity, and then a detailed survey of how Spikins thinks human evolution went, focusing on compassion, trust and morality. All in all, an amazing vision of evolutionary history: vivid, engaging, scientifically sound.

I highly recommend this to all those interested in human evolution, ethics and morals, and the current state of archaeology.