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Sexual selection models for the emergence of symbolic communication: why they should be reversed
Abstract and Figures
The arena of social and sexual relations, with both cooperation and conflict endemic in complex multimale, multifemale social groups, is most promising for generating elaborate signal systems (cf. Mφller 1997). A number of models have been presented in the past decade highlighting sexual selection as the driving force in linguistic and cultural signal evolution (e.g. Miller 1999, Burling 2005, Locke and Bogin 2006), or sexual selection of genetic characteristics correlated with language abilities (Crow 2002). Without exception, these models have argued for male sexually selected cultural or linguistic signalling motored by female choice. This paper will argue the opposite: that the emergence of symbolic forms of ritual and language entailed processes of female sexually selected display motored by male choice. The reason for the reversal of the usual direction of forces of sexual selection lies in the reproductive requirements of evolving human females. As females of Homo heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis and the direct ancestors of modern H. sapiens came under increasing selection pressure for encephalization within the past 500,000 years, they needed more energy to support their larger-brained offspring. Females who could recruit increased levels of investment from males would have greater fitness. This implies that females selected males for provisioning abilities (i.e. hunting medium to large game). But as males had to work harder to gain reproductive access, theory of parental investment and sexual selection (Trivers 1972) says they should become more choosy about which particular females they invest in. Which females did males choose and why? What was the signalling system that arose as females competed in coalitions to gain investment from choosy males? What qualities were they advertising with costly signal displays? The Sham Menstruation or Female Cosmetic Coalitions model offers testable predictions across the fields of archaeology, palaeontology and hunter-gatherer ethnography. In particular it is the only Darwinian account of why red ochre became the cultural species marker for Homo sapiens as we emerged in Africa an subsequently moved out to the Middle East, Australia and Eurasia.
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