Along with the concepts of consciousness and intelligence, our capacity for language sits right at the core of what makes us human.
But while the evolutionary origins of language have provoked speculation and impassioned debate, those of that other aural and vocal communication system, music, have been neglected if not ignored. Like language it is a universal feature of human culture, one that is a permanent feature of our daily lives and one that is capable of both expressing and inducing intense emotion.
In The Singing Neanderthal, Steven Mithen redresses the balance, drawing on a huge range of sources, from neurological case studies, through child psychology and the communication systems of non-human primates to the latest paleoarchaeological evidence.
The result is a fascinating and provocative work, and a succinct riposte to those, like Steven Pinker, who have dismissed music as a functionless and unimportant evolutionary byproduct.
Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and head of the School of Human and environmental Sciences at Reading University. Author of numerous books and articles, he has also consulted and appeared on TV and radio programmes about prehistory around the world. He has directed fieldwork in Western Scotland and is currently co-directing excavations in Wadi Faynan, southern Jordan.
'offers a new perspective on the development of the modern mind.' HISTORY TODAY (May 2005) 'a detailed erudite exploration of the psychology and neurobiology of music, and the relationship between music and language...a genuine tour de force - unquestionably Mithen's best book to date.' -- Robin Dunbar BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGY (July/August 2005) 'grand in its scope and bold in conception...[with] profound conclusions.' -- Adrian Woolfson SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (10.7.05) 'Mithen's rich, dispassionate study of the origins of music, language and mime goes back to music-making among primates as the basis for understanding what role music might play in the human mind, primative and modern, healthy and damaged.' -- Norman Lebrecht EVENING STANDARD (18.7.05) 'This is a long-overdue book, which approaches human evolution from an intriguing as well as entertaining angle.' -- R.I.M. Dunbar TLS (29.7.05) 'Mithen argues in this book on "the origins of music, language, mind and body", musical qualities have been fundamental not only to courtship but also to the sense of togetherness that enables a bunch of clever, edgy primates to make the most of their talents.' -- Marek Kohn THE INDEPENDENT (29.7.05) 'a joy, packed with the latest research and intriguing new suggestions and ideas.' -- Richard Wentk FOCUS (September 2005) 'This is an absorbing and thought provoling work.' WESTERN DAILY PRESS (16.7.05) 'an absorbing page-turner of a book that makes an interesting case for new thinking of the origins of language and brings the hitherto neglected consideration of the evolution of music into the spotlight..fascinating and well researched.' -- Ian Simmons FORTEAN TIMES (September 2005) 'Mithen knows a great deal and he writes well.' LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (6.10.05) '...the book is extremely well written, and Mithen's clear and infectious enthusiasm make it a good introduction for non-specialists interested in the topic. I can recommend it to anyone interested in the biology and evolution of music or language - and particularly to readers interested in Darwin's idea that music constitutes an ancient and important form of human communication, intertwined with, but independent from, language.' NATURE (November 2005) 'This is a stimulating book with a wealth of ideas.' -- Richard Collins IRISH EXAMINER (29.11.05)