What is it about?

Numerical elaboration and the extension of numbers to non-tangible domains such as time have been linked to cultural complexity in several studies. However, the reasons for this phenomenon remain insufficiently explored. In the present analysis, Material Engagement Theory, an emerging perspective in cognitive archaeology, provides a new perspective from which to reinterpret the cultural nexus in which quantification develops. These insights are then applied to representative Neolithic, Upper Palaeolithic, and Middle Stone Age artifacts used for quantification: clay tokens from Neolithic Mesopotamia, notched tallies from the European Upper Palaeolithic, hand stencils with possible finger-counting patterns as documented at Cosquer and Gargas, and stringed beads from Blombos Cave in South Africa.

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I am interested in how societies become numerate by using and recruiting material forms into the cognitive system for numbers over generations of collaborative effort. The manuovisually engaged domain of material forms is a primary mechanism for realizing and elaborating numerical concepts. I also look at the effect this elaborational mechanism has on conceptual content, and what this might augur about the future of human cognition.

Dr. Karenleigh A. Overmann
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

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This page is a summary of: The role of materiality in numerical cognition, Quaternary International, June 2016, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2015.05.026.
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