Part III: Establishing a Paleolithic I.Q.
Early Man, it was held, may have had a fair measure of animal cunning, otherwise he probably would never have survived, but of the kind of intelligence which we associate with inventiveness and the advancement of culture he can have had very little indeed, hence the tremendous time lapse between each significant advance. And this was held to be true for three reasons: first of all, he was so nearly animal himself, and animals are not culturally progressive; and secondly, there are certain primitive people who have not advanced culturally either, and this fact is popularly attributed to the same cause, namely, “low intelligence” — thus providing us with an actual picture of what fossil man was like when he roamed the earth. These people, we are told, are Paleolithic Men who happen to be still living! And thirdly, he had such brute features and such a small cranial capacity, both of which were taken to be clear evidence of his low level of mental development. He looked idiotic and therefore was idiotic.
These views accord so well with and, until recently, have formed such an integral part of evolutionary philosophy that they were never seriously questioned. There must have been a long time in the process of man’s evolution from ape to proto-man to Homo Sapiens
1. Thorwald, Turgen, Science and Secrets of Early Medicine, Harcourt, Brace and World, New York, 1963, p.249.,
and since everyone knows how forward-looking and progressive modern man is now, the earliest representatives of our race must have had a low I.Q. to remain so long at one cultural level. All the evidence seemed to dovetail, and the existence of primitive cultures which are marked by “backwardness” and whose members appear to lack “nobility of countenance” as we see it, seemed to provide the ultimate demonstration of the reasonableness of the current view of prehistoric man.
For many people, it is simply self-evident that the earliest human beings had a low I.Q. because an evolutionary view of things demands that this be so. But if we follow Lyell’s dictum of interpreting the past only in the light of the known present, it can be shown that most of the available evidence stands squarely against the current view of early man’s lack of intelligence. There is absolutely no historical record of any primitive culture whose children were so lacking in intelligence that they could not hold their own with the children of civilized parents, when provided with comparable opportunities. Thus, although it is felt by many people that our primitive contemporaries are backward enough to be our contemporary ancestors, it is also important to underscore at the same time the well recognized fact that our own newborn babies are not essentially different from those of any other culture, advanced or backward. Man seems always to start with about the same intellectual endowment regardless of whether he happens to be a member of some primitive tribe or a member of some well-to-do European family where it may be presumed opportunity for intellectual development is very high. It is opportunity that makes the difference. The apparent backwardness of some modern native cultures and the extreme simplicity of the tools and artifacts of Paleolithic Man are not, in either case, evidence of inferior intelligence but more probably due to a historical circumstance which it is well worth examining.
If this can be established, an important argument in favour of the supposed evolution of man from some animal form is weakened. And the object of this essay is simply to examine the evidence in the light of present knowledge. How intelligent was Paleolithic Man?