Department of Anthropology

Evolution of music and dance

WSUV Faculty participants

Group defense of territories is found in many gregarious mammalian carnivores, including lions, canids, and hyenas. In these taxa, group members often mark territory boundaries and direct aggressive behavior towards alien conspecifics found within the territory. Middle Pleistocene hominids such as Neanderthals occupied an ecological niche similar to such large carnivores, and so could be expected to share with them a suite of behavioral traits. Complex, coordinated vocalizations that function, at least in part, to advertise the group defense of a territory is one behavioral trait exhibited by several social carnivores, as well as many other gregarious animals, including primates. We propose that the evolution of human music and dance was rooted in such coordinated auditory and visual territorial advertisements. Human proto-music, in essence, might have been functionally analogous to the howling of wolves.

Articles and Chapters

PDF Hagen EH and Hammerstein P 2009. Did Neanderthals and other early humans sing? Seeking the biological roots of music in the loud calls of primates, lions, hyenas, and wolves. Musicae Scientiae, 291-320.
PDF Hagen EH and Bryant GA 2003. Music and dance as a coalition signaling system. Human Nature, 14, 21-51.