An idea in popular psychology claims that a lot of our behaviours can be explained by our ‘stone age mind’. It is said to account for seemingly irrational activities such as over-eating. The thesis is that our hunter-gatherer ancestors could never be certain where their next meal would come from so they would eat all available food on the spot. This idea has also been used to explain behaviours such as war and infidelity in marriage. The basic message is that our ancestors were violent and greedy, and consequently so are we.
The ‘stone age mind’ was itself evolving. Many behaviours that distinguish humans from other primates date back to this time; complex language, symbolic art and cooking food with fire. It also saw the first religious and spiritual activities such as ritual burial. Recent research suggests that a key element in human development was the evolution of grandparents. About 30,000 years ago there were two changes. Humans started living longer, in groups that contained three generations. This coincided with more sophisticated art and tools.
It seems that grandparents transmitted wisdom, ideas and skills that aided survival and formed the basic elements of civilisation. It is also during this period that the so-called Venus figurines begin to appear - carvings of women thought to represent earth goddesses.
Our current secular culture prizes youth, although this does not necessarily benefit young people. We are now able to live much longer than any of our forebears but the ‘elderly’ are not valued or respected. In fact many old people are isolated and cut off from the world. It might be that we have more to learn from our ancestors, both ancient and modern, than we know.