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Book Chapter

Artifact, praxis, tool, and symbol


Uomini,  Natalie       
Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Ruck, L. M., & Uomini, N. (2021). Artifact, praxis, tool, and symbol. In N. Gontier, A. Lock, & C. Sinha (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of human symbolic evolution (pp. 1-38). New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198813781.013.19.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-9154-4
“Artifact, praxis, tool, and symbol” is a review of tools as artifacts and their relations with praxis and symbolic capacities. We focus on co-evolutionary perspectives, arguing that tool-making and tool-use are appropriate analogs for understanding the expansion of hominin symbolic thought because they rely on similar behavioral and neuro-cognitive mechanisms. After comparing human and nonhuman tool-use and tool-making, we highlight major advances in hominin technological skill as evidenced by preserved artifacts. We then review praxis as a valuable concept, citing empirical literature in psychology and related fields which directly links material culture and tool-behaviors to extant human symbolic capabilities, including natural language. We then discuss various definitions of symbolism, focusing specifically on how they relate to preserved artifacts including undeniably representational examples in the Upper Paleolithic and examples related to stone tool-making, with deeper evolutionary roots. We close with fruitful directions for future work on the co-evolution of symbols and tools.