Mutant gene 'sparked art and culture'

A tiny mutation in a gene common to mammals may have changed the destiny of humanity. The gene, foxp2—identified by British researchers two years ago—could have been the switch that lit up art, culture and social behaviour in Homo sapiens 50 000 years ago.

Richard Klein, an anthropologist at Stanford University in California, told the AAAS that early modern humans 100 000 years ago were confined to Africa and seemed no different from their now-extinct cousins Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus in Europe and Asia.

Then, 50 000 years ago, behaviour altered dramatically: “There was a biological change, a genetic mutation of some kind that promoted the fully modern ability to create and innovate.

“When you look at the archaeological record before 50 000 years ago, it is remarkably homogeneous.
There are no geographically delineated groups of artefacts. Suddenly, modern-looking people began to behave in a modern way, producing art and jewellery… manufacturing styles and different cultures.”

Anthropologists have argued for years about this. Some researchers say population increase triggered creativity.

Prof Klein does not agree, arguing that foxp2 could have been the trigger. This gene was isolated in 2001 at Oxford University by researchers studying three generations of one British family, who carry a foxp2 variant. Those with the mutation could not manipulate language, or apply the normal rules for grammar, even though many of them were intelligent in non-verbal ways.

The normal human version has two minor “spelling mistakes” in its DNA. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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